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    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010
    The latest news comes from the computer and printing company Hewlett-Packard, which recently announced it's working on a project it calls the "Central Nervous System for the Earth." In coming years, the company plans to deploy a trillion sensors all over the planet.

    'Smart dust' aims to monitor everything

    By John D. Sutter, CNN
    May 3, 2010

    Palo Alto, California (CNN) -- In the 1990s, a researcher named Kris Pister dreamed up a wild future in which people would sprinkle the Earth with countless tiny sensors, no larger than grains of rice.

    These "smart dust" particles, as he called them, would monitor everything, acting like electronic nerve endings for the planet. Fitted with computing power, sensing equipment, wireless radios and long battery life, the smart dust would make observations and relay mountains of real-time data about people, cities and the natural environment.

    Now, a version of Pister's smart dust fantasy is starting to become reality.

  1.  (8177.2)
    aaaand queue total environmental control.

    Wow though. I hope HP make better earth-sensors than they used to make printers.
  2.  (8177.3)
    How long until half the little buggers get lost and end up floating around in the Pacific Ocean's island of plastic, monitoring the hell out of it?
    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010
    Wow though. I hope HP make better earth-sensors than they used to make printers.
    Yeah, but after a couple of decades, their printers are just fine. Give HP about 30 years, and if their dust hasn't enslaved humanity and re-written the world on a molecular level, they'll be a-okay.
  3.  (8177.5)
    Hartwell, the HP researcher, says the only way people can combat huge problems like climate change and biodiversity loss is to have more information about what's going on.
    "Frankly, I think we have to do it, from a sustainability and environmental standpoint," he said.
    Even though the first application of HP's "Central Nervous System for the Earth" project will be commercial, Hartwell says the motives behind smart dust are altruistic.
    "People ask me what my job is, and I say, well, I'm going to save the world," he said..

    More information is not always the key, its just one of the ingredients for a solution. What we do with information, how we sift through it and select what's important, is perhaps more crucial.
    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010 edited
    The future task of humanity with regards to information won't be gathering it, but filtering, classifying and interpreting it. Not to mention ultimately disposing of it - who the heck is going to back all that stuff up?

    "Hi, Engineer #2453652? Can you restore the Asia-Pacific region from last year? It should be on tapes 23943 - 35460."

    As a secondary topic, I'm fascinated by the notion of the eventual complete end of "privacy" as a concept. I've been trying to envision a world where every individual's being is completely monitored and recorded at all times, and considering whether "privacy" and "secrecy" would have any relevance in such a context. Not so much for the trivial stuff, sex and credit ratings and so on, but the notion that there would be no such thing as deniability - every citizen is Sartre's perfect existential hero at all times, always having to own the entirity of their life's actions, in public to others, at all times and places.
  4.  (8177.7)
    @Finagle- Strikes me as the sort of nightmare dystopia we need to avoid.
    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010
    @WG - True, but there are some fascinating aspects to it. The thought of being caught naked in a crowd is horrifying, but not so much if everyone else is naked as well. What makes the lack of privacy currently alarming is the asymmetry of it - the whole possibility of identity theft, blackmail and invasion of privacy depends on some being exposed but not others.

    Imagine a world where HP or a similar entity does release this swarm of nanoparticles - but leaves the system open for anyone to use. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, world leaders are as equally exposed as the average Joe, and *anyone* can see anything about anyone. There's no secret listener, because there's no secrecy, and no comparative advantage.

    Not really advocating for it, but it does make an interesting thought experiment.
  5.  (8177.9)
    Well, the people in North Korea think the state they live in is a normal way of life, so I suppose everyone else could see having everyone be able to watch you take a shit as normal.
  6.  (8177.10)
    @William George: If they could see Dear Leader take a shit as well, perhaps things could be different. At least, that's the post-privacy theory.
  7.  (8177.11)
    And then the AM takes over the world. The end.
  8.  (8177.12)
    This will no doubt play havoc with my cyber-hay fever.