5. Start the Countdown
Technology makes our lives better. You’re enjoying your newhigh-definition television, and have your work and personal appointments organized on your computer. You pay your bills electronically and save time and money. That’s fine and dandy, until someone takes out the electronic banking system and the machines take over the planet. Sounds crazy? Perhaps. None of the technologies we included in our top 5 are likely to rain death and destruction on our little planet, though that doesn’t prevent people from being unnerved by them. Read on to find out what weirdness may await in the future.
4. Hearing Voices at the Store
This may not sound so scary, and once you know what’s going on, it isn’t. But it might be a little unsettling to be walking in a store and hearing voices asking you to buy things. If you look around, you won’t see anyone speaking, and none of the other shoppers will seem alarmed — no one else can hear it but you. A company called Holosonics developed the Audio Spotlight system, which uses tiny speakers to focus sound into a very narrow beam. Ultrasonic frequencies are too high for the human ear to hear, but as the sound travels from the Audio Spotlight system’s speakers, air distorts the sound and makes it audible. It’s perfect for in-store advertising, but you’d have to be standing in the right place to hear it. You can learn more about it if you read, Can companies beam advertisements into my brain?Perhaps hearing voices isn’t frightening, but what about having your computer taken away.
3. Law Enforcement Takes Your Laptop
If you travel with your laptop or BlackBerry, listen up. According to the 9th Circuit Court, it is perfectly legal for Federal Customs and Border Patrol agents to seize your technological devices when you enter the United States. You might not have anything illegal on your computer’s hard drive, but even if you’re just carrying your personal computer and you have all your kids’ vacation pictures on there, there’s no telling when — or if — you’ll get your machine back.
The idea is that in the interest of national security, U.S. officials have the right to confiscate electronics to search them for evidence of a crime — even without probable cause. If that sounds scary to you, you can read more in our article, Can the government take away my laptop?
Perhaps the government can use this decision to prevent an attack, but can anyone prevent an all-out cyberwar?
Imagine a war fought completely by computer. No, we’re not talking about a scene out of the movie WarGames, we’re talking an all-out attack on a nation’s electronic infrastructure. What’s that, you may ask? Those are the systems that control emergency response services, banks and other electronic commerce, the systems that run the electrical grid, water and fuel pipeline controls, communications networks, and oh, yeah: defense weaponry. A well-executed attack could cause serious disruption and open the populace up to physical threats. Attacks like these have already been launched against some countries. Russians attacked Georgia with denial-of-service attacks. Hackers have taken on the Pentagon, and some suspect terrorist organizations of training their operatives to launch computer assaults. So how do you defend against a cyberattack? Educating people about computer viruses and Trojan horses will help, and using updated antivirus software is also important. You can find out more by reading Is cyberwar coming? Cyberattacks might actually be useful tools against machines who have learned to think for themselves and chosen to eliminate humanity. It’s the stuff of science fiction, but why do some people believe this could happen?
1. The Technological Singularity
Artificial intelligence (AI) has come a long way since computers first made the scene. Yet we’re not at the edge of a dystopian society in which the machines run amok and humankind fights for its survival. At least, not yet.
Vernor Vinge, a math professor at San Diego State University, proposed what he calls the singularity — a time at which computer networks may become self-aware through advanced AI, and interfaces between people and computers help humankind evolve. Biological advancements may become so sophisticated that doctors can even engineer human intelligence. There is a possibility, however, that AI might allow machines to take over the world. There’s no guarantee that such a scenario will really happen, and technological limitations may prevent it. Still, the idea that machines might someday decide we’re irrelevant and arrange for our destruction is more than a little creepy. You can read more when you take a look at What’s the technological singularity?
The Large Hadron Collider
In 2008 scientists completed a gigantic machine that they believe will help solve some of the secrets of the universe. Some critics of the project were so afraid of it that they filed a lawsuit to prevent it from being turned on. Why? The Large Hadron Collider is the largest and most powerful particle accelerator ever built. It’s designed to smash tiny particles into tinier ones to find out the stuff from which the universe is made. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the organization that built the collider, are optimistic that their experiments will help them find the elusive Higgs boson particle or evidence that string theory exists.Critics, on the other hand, have filed suit to have the LHC deactivated. They fear that the LHC could create a black hole at the surface of the Earth, or create a weird — and for now, hypothetical — material called strangelets that cosmologists theorize could have a highly destructive gravitational field. CERN scientists reject both theories. Even if the collider could produce black holes or strangelets, they would decay too quickly to cause any harm.