Information explosion & transparent society

By Razib Khan | August 5, 2010 5:02 pm

No anonymity on future web says Google CEO:

“There was five exabytes [five billion gigabytes] of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003,” he said. “But that much information is now created every two days, and the pace is increasing… People aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them.

The bulk of that information, Schmidt explained, comes in the form of user-generated data. Every digital interaction throws up information, he said. And that information can be used to minutely analyse and predict human behaviour.

Schmidt told delegates at the conference that the availability of information increased convenience, and enabled society to more effectively combat anti-social and criminal behaviour – but his talk raised some unsettling issues.

He said that addressing issues such as identity theft, for instance, required “true transparency and no anonymity”.

  • Rhacodactylus

    Welcome to the Panopticon! {Tina Turner – We Don’t Need Another Hero, plays}

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  • gcochran

    “We would like to extend our deepest apologies to each and every one of you,” announced CEO Eric Schmidt, speaking from the company’s Googleplex headquarters. “Clearly there have been some privacy concerns as of late, and judging by some of the search terms we’ve seen, along with the tens of thousands of personal e-mail exchanges and Google Chat conversations we’ve carefully examined, it looks as though it might be a while before we regain your trust.”
    Added Schmidt, “Whether you’re Michael Paulson who lives at 3425 Longview Terrace and makes $86,400 a year, or Jessica Goldblatt from Lynnwood, WA, who already has well-established trust issues, we at Google would just like to say how very, truly sorry we are.”

  • Scott

    I hope he is wrong. That is a sad world he predicts is coming.

  • Razib Khan

    i hoped that the prediction was wrong. but it seems like it isn’t. though if anyone can point to an argument why the transparent society isn’t going to happen i’d be game.

  • Mike

    1984- George Orwell was supposed to be a warning, not a to-do list.

  • bioIgnoramus

    Old glass is transparent, but it can distort an image substantially.

  • Chris T

    We’re in a post-scarcity world regarding information. This is a complete revolution in human affairs and its transformational effects are only getting started.

  • Caledonian

    I’ve been somewhat surprised that there aren’t more ways available for people to counteract monitoring and observation, hide their tracks, etc. And even more to the point, that the existing methods aren’t more widely used.

    Didn’t the U.S. government try to make sending encrypted information illegal, at least with encryption systems that it couldn’t break (in a timely fashion)?

  • Brian Too

    @9. Caledonian,

    That was the case, more or less. High bit encryption keys fell under export controls in the U.S. (more bits in the key = tougher to decrypt). These same export controls are used to control weapons technologies and so forth.

    However people wanted to do business on the web and financial (and other) transactions were problematic with only weak encryption capability available. It was under Clinton that strong encryption was finally removed from the export controls list.

    You can see the problem. Make a code cracking system solvable, and then bad actors can solve it about as well as the good guys. Of course the reverse is true too–make a system really secure, and it’s secure for everyone, regardless of motivation or activity.

    Outsiders (most of us) don’t really know how much capability the NSA, CIA and FBI have to crack encrypted messages. It’s surmised to be substantial though. My understanding is that using strong encryption widely available now (3-DES, AES, ECC, etc.) should withstand any brute force decryption effort directed at them.

    However in security, whenever there’s one strong door created there’s usually another, much weaker door somewhere else. Brute force decryption efforts are a lot of work for little payoff, especially when simpler and more effective approaches are available.

    Also, the line keeps moving. As long as computers continue on their exponential power growth curve, formerly secure algorithms become vulnerable and need updating or replacement. Computing Science still hasn’t decided whether P = NP or not. And there are persistent stories about nascent quantum computers and algorithms that could be potentially extraordinary code breaking systems.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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