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Surveillance Keiretsu

I stumbled across some near-term plans for the Amazon Corporation. It’s funny to think that they started as an online bookstore. Now it’s hard to say exactly what they are. They’ve purchased other companies, branched off into space exploration and are even pioneering delivery by drone.

I think everyone will agree that the new set of services they’re working on will move online commerce to a whole new level. The last mile problem has been there since the beginning. An order can be placed at the speed of light and the large national distribution networks get the goods quite close to where the customer lives very quickly. But getting packages from a local distribution warehouse to a specific residence ends up being the most expensive part of the distribution process.

Even if the packages arrive on schedule and are placed on the doorstep, they are often stolen by criminals cruising neighborhoods. These crooks trail delivery vans and pick off packages that look like they might have resale value on the black market. Customers are always complaining about stolen packages.

This is why Amazon bought Ring, the home security company. Ring puts video cameras on your front door and around your property. If a thief approaches, intending to steal a package, the video cameras capture an image of the person’s face. Recently Ring customers within particular neighborhoods have started sharing these photos. “Watch out for this guy, he’s stealing packages.” Often the photos are also shared with the local police.

Here’s where Amazon can really add value through its network of companies and infrastructure services. Imagine a future with even faster delivery and free of package thieves. By combining drone delivery and Ring’s home surveillance technology, you’ll never lose another package.

Here’s a typical scenario. The customer places an order. The item is picked and packed, and moved into the distribution chain. The package arrives at a local distribution center and is assigned to a drone for home delivery. The drone races to your house and places the package on the designated receiving location. What this? A thief sees the delivery, waits until the drone is out of sight, then moves in to steal the package. Here’s where Ring’s network-connected cameras kick in. The cameras are watching the receiving area—having been notified by the drone that a delivery was imminent. The images of the thief are sent to the Amazon Cloud for processing. The photo of the thief is compared to the family of consumers occupying the house. If there’s no match, the algorithm goes through the extended family, work colleagues and friends. It looks through address books and photo albums to see if there’s any possible match. Given what’s coming next, Amazon doesn’t want to make a mistake.

It looks like there’s no match. This person is stealing your package. The image is now compared to outstanding arrest warrants and neighborhood watch photos. Based on several year’s worth of video footage, the algorithm produces a list of people who have no regular pattern of activity in your neighborhood to determine if this person has been casing the neighborhood. All the while, Amazon’s facial recognition systems are attempting to identify the individual. As a courtesy, Amazon shares the information with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to determine whether enforcement action should be coordinated.

At the same time, Amazon’s drones working in the area are alerted to the theft and they begin to gather into a swarm. The swarm tracks the thief as he tries to make his escape. Since Ring cameras are installed in almost every home in the neighborhood, it’s straightforward to track his route. The thief’s location is transmitted to the drone swarm and the cameras on the drones make an identification and lock in and begin tracking the thief. Amazon echo nodes in neighborhood homes notify residents via Alexa to shelter in place while the action is executed.

We’re Watching.

Ideally, the drone swarm will want to take action before the thief enters a vehicle. Even if full identification hasn’t been completed, the drone swarm will move in to herd the thief toward a designated location that has been communicated to local police. Since the police can’t always immediately respond to this kind of incident, the drone swarm is equipped to keep the “suspect” in the designated location for up to 12 hours.

If the thief has abandoned the package, and it appears undamaged, a drone will break off from the swarm and re-deliver it to your home. Damaged packages are taken by drone back to the local distribution warehouse and a request for a replacement item is automatically generated.

Once the police arrive on the scene, all video and audio evidence, along with any background profile data, is transmitted. Generally this results in an open-and-shut case when delivered to the District Attorney’s office. A permanent record is created in Amazon’s central data warehouse to make sure once this person has served their time in prison they receive heightened surveillance on release and for the rest of their lives.

Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. Using the vast resources of the Amazon family of companies, we can often deter a person from reoffending by foregrounding the surveillance apparatus at a key moment prior to a criminal act. Sometimes all it takes is a reminder that someone is watching, and that any criminal act will be swiftly and surely punished.

That’s the future, but here’s some things Amazon is working on today…

Adding Face Recognition to Your Front Door

Where’s Twitter’s Aksimet?

Why doesn't Twitter have something like WordPress's Akismet? Akismet is a plugin that filters spam by combining information about spam captured on all participating sites. It uses that information to generate rules to block future spam. I know that bad actors can easily create new Twitter accounts, but should also be easy for a large group of people to tag them in real time.

And I'd imagine if you can create an algorithm that can predict what you'd like to buy, surely an algorithm could be created to identify both hate speech and the speaker based on a few online real-time gestures. Identifying these storms of attacks, like the ones against Leslie Jones, is not too different from identifying the events that Twitter wants to sell advertising against.

Twitter valued being unfiltered at a certain point, but now the stream is quite polluted.

 

Uploading Knowledge

Every once in a while I hear that some “scientist” is working on a method to upload knowledge to the human brain. Ideally this would work like it did in the film “The Matrix.” A person needs to learn some sort of skill or master some area of knowledge, and rather than putting in hours of study and dedication. They upload the knowledge needed in a matter of seconds. Mastery is instant.

I wonder if knowledge is uploaded or downloaded? I suppose it depends on where you're standing.

What would knowledge have to be in order for it to be capable of being uploaded? What would a brain have to be in order to accept knowledge using this method?

In practice, if some process like this were ever to be created, it would look more like something by Philip K. Dick. Rather than uploading skills that increase a person's capability in the future, the market for downloading pleasant memories of a luxurious vacation to Mars would dominate.

Assuming you could lower the price sufficiently, everyone would upload everything. Why wouldn't they? “We can remember it for you wholesale.”

Of course, knowledge isn't like that. It's not uploadable. And brains aren't like that. They aren't computer hard disks.

 

Hymnody of the Network

I came across this piece of music while reading David Byrne's latest post about his new project, Contemporary Color. One of the groups in a competition he was observing performed to a song by Vienna Teng called “The Hymn of Acxiom.” A hymn is a song of praise.

Acxiom is a database company that tracks personal data on the Network. They sell that data to other corporations for a variety of purposes to be used in many contexts. When I was working in online identity, we hired Acxiom to create out-of-band questions as a second factor in user authentication. For instance, you might provide a password and then answer a question from Acxiom. For example, here are three addresses. Have you ever lived at any of them? They can create that kind of question on the fly because they know everything about just about everyone.

Traditionally a hymn is addressed to a deity. The form of this song tells us something about the attitude of the singer. The hymn is also meant to be sung by the community surrounding the deity. Stewart Brand believes that humans have supplanted the gods, and must now act like it, in the face of global warming and other planetary disasters. Certainly humans, as a species, have put a stamp on the fate of the planet and all its inhabitants. But an individual human doesn't have the power of the whole species. And as “gods” is a plural, it doesn't preclude the possibility of others. Say, Acxiom, for instance.

A Hymn of Acxiom

Somebody hears you. You know that, you know that…

Somebody hears you. You know that inside.

Someone is learning the colors of all your moods, to

(say just the right thing and) show that you’re understood.

Here you’re known.

Leave your life open. You don’t have, you don’t have…

Leave your life open. You don’t have to hide.

Someone is gathering every crumb you drop, these

(mindless decisions and) moments you long forgot.

Keep them all.

Let our formulas find your soul.

We’ll divine your artesian source (in your mind),

Marshal feed and force (our machines will)

To design you a perfect love—

Or (better still) a perfect lust.

O how glorious, glorious: a brand new need is born.

Now we possess you. You’ll own that, you’ll own that…

Now we possess you. You’ll own that in time.

Now we will build you an endlessly upward world,

(reach in your pocket) embrace you for all you’re worth.

Is that wrong?

Isn’t this what you want?

Amen.

 

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