What Will Facebook Terragraph, 5G, and Being a “Smart City” Mean for San José Residents?

Reposted with permission from EduResearcher.

smart city san jose

A quote from the Smart City Team presentation in April on the Facebook Terragraph (millimeter wave technology) rollout reveals that “deploying at scale in a city has never been done before.”  This alone should lead us to ask critical questions about the process and outcomes. To what extent have residents been informed about known risks and hazards of new technologies that they will apparently be subject to, and what kinds of concerns about safetysecurity, and privacy (or lack thereof) are being contemplated by city leaders as they make final decisions to either fully deploy or hold off on the Smart City experiments? Are cities with tech partnerships exempt from needing to uphold basic standards of protection of human participants in experimental research?

Silicon Valley’s philosophy to “move fast and break things” may not be readily apparent upon landing on the Smart Cities Vision page for San José, but a closer look at key proposals reveals it’s likely in the mix. While difficult to know how day-to-day life will change as a result of living in a “smart city,” the issues described below are certainly worth learning more about. What should residents expect as tangible benefits? What will be the costs? What blind spots may exist among well-intentioned leaders making decisions, and will there be unintended (or consciously dismissed) harms resulting from these initiatives?

precise definition of a “Smart City” remains elusive, yet what does appear at the root, is that 5G will be involved. A recent Bloomberg update documents tensions between big business and government in the rollout of 5G, with a focus on San Jose’s role in initially participating with, and then protesting, the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee of the FCC. It appears despite the recent resistance, that industry dominance is not solely an issue within the FCC, but also influential in shaping local policies for 5G deployment.

…”For San Jose, the march toward 5G continues without the FCC. On Monday, the city struck an agreement with AT&T to install about 200 small-cell devices for 5G on light poles in exchange for $5 million in lease revenue over 15 years. Perhaps the worst part of the whole process, said San Jose Mayor Liccardo, is that most Americans aren’t paying attention: “When you’re talking about complex issues of technology and regulation, it’s often lost on the public just how badly they’re being screwed.”

According to a February 2018 report by Grand View Research, the global smart cities market is anticipated to reach approximately 2.6 trillion dollars by 2025. A summary of the report indicates key industry participants to include tech giants such as Accenture, Cisco Systems, Siemens, IBM, General Electric, and Microsoft.  What appears missing in the summary, however, is the specific situation for San José, where apparently Facebook will also be a main driver and beneficiary of the Smart Cities plan.

A quote from the Smart City Team presentation in April on the Facebook Terragraph (millimeter wave technology) rollout reveals that “deploying at scale in a city has never been done before.”  This alone should lead us to ask critical questions about the process and outcomes. To what extent have residents been informed about known risks and hazards of new technologies that they will apparently be subject to, and what kinds of concerns about safetysecurity, and privacy (or lack thereof) are being contemplated by city leaders as they make final decisions to either fully deploy or hold off on the Smart City experiments? Are cities with tech partnerships exempt from needing to uphold basic standards of protection of human participants in experimental research?

See the following overview of the Facebook Terragraph here: “Introducing Facebook’s new terrestrial connectivity systems — Terragraph and Project ARIES” and a video introduction linked to the image above. To read more about Facebook’s partnership with San José, see documents from the April 5th Smart Cities Meeting).

Below is a list of concerns related to the Smart Cities and 5G rollouts. Specific questions are provided at the end of this post. 

A. Public Health Impacts:
1. Scientists and Doctors Demand Moratorium on 5G (original)
(Örebro, Sweden) Sept. 13, 2017 
“Over 180 scientists and doctors from 35 countries sent a declaration to officials of the European Commission today demanding a moratorium on the increase of cell antennas for planned 5G expansion. Concerns over health effects from higher radiation exposure include potential neurological impacts, infertility, and cancer.  Dr. Joel Moskowitz, Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley, recently announced an additional statement from the International Society of Doctors for the Environment and its member organizations in 27 countries adding to the call for a halt to the rollout of 5G.  In the United States, the ISDE member organization is Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). There are now over 200 signatories to the original appeal. See the main website here.

2. 5G Wireless Technology: Millimeter Wave Health Effects

3. To learn more about concerns related to 5G and “Internet of Things” technologies, listen to the audio of the following Commonwealth Club discussion held on February 5th, 2018 in San Francisco, CA: ReInventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks and read the report here published by the National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy.

4. 5G Wireless Telecommunications Expansion: Public Health and Environmental Implications (in press), Environmental Research. Abridged version available via Bulletin of the Santa Clara County Medical Association, re-shared with permission from author: A 5G Wireless Future: Will It Contribute to a Smart Nation or Contribute To An Unhealthy One?

5. 5G: Great Risk for EU, U.S. and International Health: Compelling Evidence for Eight Distinct Types of Harm Caused by Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Exposures and the Mechanism that Causes Them


B. Big Data Security Issues:

The following screenshot is from the proposed Data Architecture Report with examples of the key platforms being proposed to house data (City of San Jose Open Data Community Architecture Report – 2/2018, p.5)

Below are examples of major security/data breaches from several of the proposed platforms:

C. Privacy Risks:

Smart Cities Come With Inherent Privacy Risks, ACLU Says
Making Smart Decisions About Smart Cities (ACLU of Northern California)
“Smart Cities”, Surveillance, and New Streetlights in San Jose (Feb. 2017, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Privacy International Reports (with key word search for “Smart Cities”)
Selected Posts/Reports:

The following slide was provided by the Smart Cities Team during the presentation on Privacy at the Smart Cities Committee meeting on April 5th, 2018.

Posted on the slide:
“Many questions remain for us to consider…
* Who owns the data?
* What is our retention policy?
* Where is it housed?
* Who are we sharing the data with?
* Should we have a data monetization strategy?
* How are we managing Big Data?
* Chief Privacy Officer?”

It should be acknowledged that the Smart Cities team has been responsive to offer meeting with community members who have raised concerns. Representatives from the ACLU and NAACP have been invited for individual conversations after making comments at recent public meetings and the City’s Deputy City Manager, Kip Harkness has written a blogpost on pending projects with key questions at the end related to the need for public involvement.

In the spirit of community engagement, please find the following questions for city leaders and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. (Responses will be posted as soon as they are made available).

1. Does the city have evidence to document the safety of experimental technologies being deployed in light of the biological risks/hazard warnings raised by over 200 scientists who have recommended a halt to the deployment of 5G/millimeter wave technologies? (See hereherehereherehere and Section A above for more).

2. Have alternative solutions to high-speed connectivity been explored (outside of the FB Terragraph/5G/IoT rollouts)? Listen to the audio of the following event from the Commonwealth Club outlining science and policy gaps in addressing these issues: ReInventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks and read the full report here.

3. Will residents be allowed an opportunity to “opt out” of having internet devices being connected to the Terragraph by the City or Smart City Technology partners? Or will everyone within city limits be subject to their information being swept up into the data-gathering structures?

4. How will the City of San José justify using platforms for Smart City data architecture that are a) explicitly connected to Amazon commerce sites and b) that have been repeatedly vulnerable to massive data breaches? (see Section B above)

5. What assurances will be provided to ensure data extracted from the Smart Cities program and/or devices connected to the Internet of Things/5G networks will not be used in ways that would harm vulnerable communities? (Click image below for concerns. See also Data Justice Lab and the Data Harms Record).

6. Eubanks’ recently published book,“Automating Inequality: How High Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish The Poor” documents ways that structural discrimination is being exacerbated by the introduction of new technologies and related policies shaped by algorithmic error and bias. What processes will the Smart Cities team enact to ensure algorithmic transparency for the public to know how data will being used in analyses or decision-making?  Will the City of San José agree to abide by the following Principles for Algorithmic Transparency and Accountabilitypublished by the Association for Computing Machinery U.S. Public Policy Council?

7. Why is the City of San José partnering with Facebook to deploy untested Terragraph 5G millimeter wavelength technology “at scale throughout the city” given its clear record of betrayal of public trust with privacy violations that allowed data from 87 million users’ profiles to be abused and misused?  

8. During the FB Terragraph presentation at the April 5th meeting, the Facebook representative indicated that specific data would not be extracted, rather that amounts of data sent/received would be monitored via the Terragraph. What evidence can be provided to verify such claims aside from the verbal promises? Have data contracts for the Terragraph project been analyzed and vetted by non-industry-funded privacy/security experts?

9. Will the contracts for the Facebook Terragraph partnership and AT&T 5G small cell rollouts with the City of San José include liability disclaimers similar to these earlier ones from telecom companies? If so, would the City of San José then be held liable in case of harm inflicted on residents as a result of the technologies being deployed (and would the city be able to afford such liability at a large scale)?  Note that similar issues were raised when SB649 was considered at the State level and was eventually vetoed by Governor Brown.

10. With the exception of four city employees working on the Smart Cities project and the Mayor, San José’s Smart Cities Advisory Board consists entirely of individuals from the tech industry without any representation from community based organizations, academics, scientists, public health professionals, independent privacy/security experts, or civil/human rights organizations. How will city leaders be more intentional about structurally integrating community into the process of decision-making related to the Smart Cities Initiatives? 

Smart Cities Advisory Board
Vice President, AERIS
Director and Head of IoT Investment Fund, Cisco Investments
Chief Technology Officer for Smart Cities, Dell EMC
Vice President and General Manager, IoT, Intel
Senior Vice President, ORBCOMM, Inc
Founder and Chief Technology Officer, RevTwo
Former Chief Technology Officer, PayPal
Vice President, CityNOW, Panasonic

For readers interested in more information about Facebook’s reach, see the following maps and analyses by the Share Lab: Research and Data Investigation Lab.

Screenshot of image above is from the following article via the BBC.
For main Share Lab site, see https://labs.rs/en/.

_____________________________________________
May 26th Update: Since the original publication of this post, concerns have also been raised about the use of facial recognition technologies throughout the Smart Cities projects (at the May 3rd Smart Cities meeting where Box software’s facial recognition was proposed in a pilot demonstration and more recently from ACLU documents that link the use of Amazon’s Reckognition software with Smart City plans in Orlando, Florida). The video below was originally posted to the ACLU YouTube channel with the title Amazon Sells Facial Recognition Tech To Police. More detailed information with concerns about facial recognition technologies can be found here and here.  is currently unclear whether or not the City of San José is using (or plans to use) the Amazon Rekognition facial recognition technology throughout the city. The video below from the ACLU does indicate that the City of Orlando is a “Smart City” that is already using the Rekognition technology.

…”It also already has surveillance cameras all over the city on everything from light posts to police officers. Activating a citywide facial recognition system, could be as easy as flipping a switch. Body cams were designed to keep police officers accountable to the public, but facial recognition turns these devices into surveillance machines. This could mean round-the-clock surveillance whenever cops are present. Imagine what that would mean for minority communities that are already over-policed.”…

The following is a quote from a letter dated May 25th, 2018 from US Congressmen Ellison and Cleaver to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos:

“According to a page on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) website, Rekognition is a “deep learning-based image recognition service which allows you to search, verify, and organize millions of images.” The same web page describes Rekognition as a tool for performing “real time face searches against collections with tens of millions of faces.” Amazon’s website lists the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and the City of Orlando Police Department as Rekognition customers. A series of studies have shown that face recognition technology is consistently less accurate in identifying the faces of African Americans and women as compared to Caucasians and men. The disproportionally high arrest rates for members of the black community make the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement problematic, because it could serve to reinforce this trend.”… 

The letter continues with a series of questions requested to be answered by Bezos prior to June 20th, 2018. To learn more about Amazon’s Facial “Rekognition” program, click either of the images below:
Privacy statement. Clicking the above images will serve content from youtube.com

For additional reading, see: 
Dr. Beatrice Golomb, Professor of Medicine, UCSD, Letter to Oppose 5G (SB649)
5G Wireless Telecommunications and Expansion: Public Health and Environmental Implications
Why We Should Oppose 5G on Health Grounds // Ronald M. Powell, Ph.D.
Smart Cities, Social Impact Bonds, and the Takeover of Public Education 
The 5G Appeal: Scientists and Doctors Call For a Moratorium On The Roll-Out of 5G
Smart or Stupid? Will the Future of Our Cities Be Easier to Hack? // The Guardian
Philadelphia’s $4,000 Trash Cans A Messy Waste
The Disinformation Campaign and Massive Radiation Increase Behind the 5G Rollout // The Nation [Investigative Report]
Why Smart Cities Need an Urgent Reality Check // The Guardian
The Color of Surveillance in San Diego // San Diego ACLU 
Amazon Pushes Facial Recognition to Police. Critics See Surveillance Risk // New York Times
Together We Can Put A Stop to High-Tech Racial Profiling // ACLU
Amazon Confirms That Echo Device Secretly Shared Users’ Private Audio
Amazon Needs To Come Clean About Racial Bias In Its Algorithms
Emails Show How Amazon Is Selling Facial Recognition System to Law Enforcement. Broad coalition demands that Amazon stop selling dragnet surveillance tool to the government, citing privacy and racial justice concerns

The next San José Smart City meetings will be held from 1:30-4:30pm in the City Hall Chambers on June 7th, 2018.

-Roxana Marachi, Ph.D

Editor’s Note: Seattle is part of the White House Smart City Initiative. It may not follow the exact blueprint of what’s happening in San Jose, but I think it’s important to start thinking about and asking questions concerning data collection, ownership and monetization at the city level. Personal privacy is a big concern as well. If every public action can be monitored and recorded it’s not hard to see smart cities quickly evolving into surveillance cites.

-Carolyn Leith

Advertisements

Navigating Whiteness: Could “Anywhere, Anytime” Learning Endanger Black and Brown Students?

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

KITE STEM.jpg

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

This is a companion to a previous post I wrote about the implementation of the KiTE STEM challenge, a Google-sponsored digital learning contest being run in partnership with the Kirkland, WA park system this spring. Read part one here.

On April 12 Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a Starbucks coffee shop at 18th and Spruce Streets while waiting for a friend with whom they had a scheduled meeting. A bystander recorded the encounter, as the men had done nothing wrong and questioned the police as to why the arrests were made. Their experience has been widely discussed in national news. Today being a black or brown person in the public sphere is to be suspect and put at risk of arrest, deportation or even death.

I raise this within the context of appified learning ecosystems, because Philadelphia is a City of LRNG. Collective Shift has been promoting a system of “personalized” learning called Digital On Ramps where Philadelphia’s students, many of whom are students of color, would be sent out to navigate the city and earn skills-based badges.

The featured image for this post is from the article discussing Kirkland’s Kite STEM challenge. It shows hands holding a phone with a multiple choice question on the screen. They are young, black hands. Presumably this child is in a park using the app. In seeing those hands, I remember twelve-year old Tamir Rice, murdered by police at a Cleveland playground in 2014. We would like to think of parks as “safe” places to learn, but there are no guarantees for black children.

KITE part 2

ree-range device mediated education may seem like a great idea for privileged teens who can sit on the “weed-wall” in Rittenhouse Square and face no consequences. But what does that look like for young black men? Will they be afforded the same treatment? What will their “Hackable High School” look like? Will they have the right to pursue online instruction on a laptop undisturbed in local coffee shop?

Collective Shift

I see Collective Shift’s image of “appified” education (above) and can’t help but think of Stephon Clark, murdered in his grandmother’s backyard by police as he held his phone. Will black and brown children be targeted pursuing informal learning on phones? Will they fear being shot as they collect competencies for their digital learning lockers?

I also think about the data being collected by the apps that enable anywhere learning: location data, emotion sensing data, and data about social interactions, all of it aggregated and used to develop predictive profiles. Are we bumping up against the moment when Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report is realized? When pre-crime interventions begin? Which brings to mind a panel discussion “Defining Public Safety: Visions for the Future of Policing” I attended last October during the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference.

During the Q&A at the end, former CIO of the City Charles Brennan, noted that the future of policing would be facial recognition cameras, predictive analytics software, and drone surveillance. Watch this clip from a 2014 lecture at MIT featuring whistleblower William Binney that describes facial recognition software developed by the military in Afghanistan as it was being deployed by local police in Springfield, MA.

Future of Policing

How will it feel to “learn” exclusively in such an environment, an environment of ubiquitous surveillance and policing? And how will race play into assigned pathways for work-based learning? I have concerns about the quality of the experiences provided, as well the possibility of child labor issues. We know tremendous racial bias exists in US work places. What protections will be put in place to ensure black and brown children are not victimized? Who will be able to access which parts of the ecosystem? Will “Wharton-affiliated” ecosystem opportunities be restricted to students that meet specific criteria, while students of color get pushed into tracks for grounds maintenance, home healthcare, and basic coding?

US society suffers from a pervasive sickness that stems from our national origins in the theft of indigenous land and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Here in the city of “brotherly love,” myths portraying what we wish we were (independent, fair, just) are carefully tended. Yet, the brutality of our history (our present) cannot be denied. It emerges with regularity, at times on camera, in branded corporate settings like Starbucks, upending the lives of innocent people like Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson.

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

I have many reservations about “future ready” education, but the Starbucks incident makes clear the issue of race is paramount. This issue is not in any of the papers put out by Knowledgeworks. It is not addressed by MacArthur or Collective Shift. For all the black and brown people who have died or been subjected to physical or emotional violence for simply existing in spaces where white people felt they were a threat, we must talk about this.

“Anytime, anywhere” education could mean death or arrest or deportation for young black and brown people seeking to “learn” in spaces white society is loathe to share. A learning ecosystem governed by whiteness, particularly whiteness enshrined in technocratic digital platforms ruled by powerful white men = continued erasure.

Before hackable education models start to supplant bricks and mortar schools, there must be public conversations that critically examine what such a model would mean for black people, for brown people, and for undocumented immigrants. Their voices and opinions must be prioritized. The Kirkland KiTE STEM Challenge goes online this week. Will we start talking about this before it is too late? Lives hang in the balance.

BLM

-Alison McDowell

“Smart and Surveilled:” Building Sanctuary Part 3

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

smart and surveilled

The future is uncertain and unlikely to play out exactly as described. Nevertheless, we must begin to comprehend how technological developments combined with concentrated power and extreme income inequality are leading us to increasingly automated forms of oppression. My hope is that communities will begin to incorporate an understanding of this bigger picture into resistance efforts for public education and beyond. Let us join together, embracing our humanity, to fight the forces that would bring us to “lockdown.” How can we preserve our lives and those of our loved ones outside the data stream? How can we nurture community in a world where alienation is becoming normalized? What do we owe one another? What are we willing to risk? I have divided my story into seven parts. I hope you’ll read along and consider sharing it with others.

This installment highlights  smart city surveillance and the Internet of Things. Cam and Li’s lives, including their educational experiences, are shaped by ubiquitous algorithms that align their behaviors to the economic and social expectations put in place by the Solutionists. This is the third installment in the series. If you want to read from the beginning use this link to access the introduction and Part 1: Plugging In. The whole series can be accessed here: Link

Cam and Li have grown up in a world controlled by sensors and data. All day, every day sensors watch, track and transmit information. The devices that make up the vast web of Internet of Things are tiny, but their combined power is incalculable. The most common IoT sensor in the pre-lockdown years was the smart phone. Practically anyone over the age of ten had one. Acting as a sensor, people’s phones were a primary means of data collection, logging information about how people interacted with each other, with systems, and their physical world.

The first sensors were created to monitor global supply chain shipments. Then, corporate, government and academic researchers devised a dizzying array of sensors to transmit data about most aspects of the physical world and how people live their lives in it. Instead of tracking pallets on cargo ships, they now track people, buses, energy, animals, art, storm water runoff, even sounds and footsteps. Each processor gathers a particular type of information that can be merged into the data stream for analysis. Predictive analytics algorithms, complex mathematical equations that anticipate future outcomes, tap into the data stream. Such algorithms can be used to predict when the bulb in a streetlight will fail, when a storm sewer will overflow, or even where a crime will happen.

For years authorities quietly built datasets that digitally documented community life using police body cameras and later cameras embedded into robot patrols. It showed incredible hubris to roll out such a program under the guise of citizen protection. The cameras, of course, were always looking out at the people, not at the police. Even with footage, police were rarely held accountable for crimes committed. Meanwhile, all aspects of people’s daily lives were taken in; faces, routines, social connections; anything within the field of view of the camera was absorbed by Oracle.

That such data would be turned against citizens in times of civil unrest should have been anticipated. Some who lived in communities that had experienced the evolution of brutal policing were indeed skeptical, but many held on to the idea that the cameras were well intentioned. Cam’s mother vividly remembers the week of the lockdown, how teams were deployed strategically throughout the city in ways that made resistance futile. All those years, the police state’s neural networks had been “learning” their neighborhoods and their faces all in the name of public safety.

Post lockdown, sensors and technology have been integrated into more and more aspects of daily life, pressuring people to make “good decisions.” Strivers feel less and less in control of their daily activities. They await the next haptic pulse that will direct their attention and actions. Cam might crave a pint of chocolate ice cream, but her minder is watching the refrigerator and uses guilt to pressure her into choosing carrots and celery instead. If she doesn’t comply, it will most certainly go into her health data log. Maybe Li wants to sleep late. Well, the sleep monitor strives to keep her on a productive R.E.M. cycle, so it raises the shades in her bedroom and turns on the shower down the hall at the appropriate hour. Is Talia driving to the corner store when she should be walking? Well, her auto tracker knows, as does her step counter, which means her insurance providers know, too. Maybe she can get away with it early in the month, if she has time to make up her activity quota before the 31st. Resources for healthcare are so constrained that people must demonstrate through data that their personal routines and lifestyle choices optimize preventative health protocols.

The Nudge Unit is constantly looking for new ways to incorporate behavioral triggers and feedback loops into online education and VR platforms, too. Buzz, buzz, a text appears. “Cam needs more points on Skyward Skills. It’s time to log on.” Or the pulse monitor indicates Li is too tense. Buzz, buzz, “Take a mindfulness break kid,” breathe and reflect. Buzz, buzz, “Talia step away from the screen and walk around the block to avoid blood clots.” Action triggered, data logged, repeat has turned life into one unending Pavlovian experiment.

Existence has subtly shifted to align to the Solutionist outlook. Economic forecasters rely on people being rational actors as they develop financial projections, and if technology can be used as a tool to shape human behaviors and enforce “rationality,” it is all the better for the global financiers who generate their wealth by speculating on the lives of everyday people. For the strivers, optimization has erased freedom and personal agency.

In the post-labor era, people have become more valuable for the data they produce than for their capacity to do physical work. Thus all but the off-liners have been integrated into the global corporate value chain as commodities. With biometrically-enabled Citi Badges, Cam and Li are not unlike tagged calves or farmed salmon, managed and processed without agency or recourse; lives controlled for the profit of others. The bio capitalist economic model values them only to the extent that they contribute their digital labor to the Solutionists’ data-driven system of outcomes-based results.

Algorithms hold tremendous power over Cam and Li. Using data generated through the Internet of Things, Oracle can make predictions about the type of adults the children are likely to become. What their cost to society will be. What they might contribute as human capital. Should their family should fall into poverty, Oracle can evaluate how much profit there could be made providing services to “impact” their situation through Pay for Success contracts. Would the predicted rate of return on their lives justify expending the Global Coin required? The Solutionists say, “Just run the data; the data will tell us.”

Talia tries to shelter the family from the data stream as much as possible, but that is has proven difficult. Accessing any public services demands data. Walking outside means you are under surveillance. Even at home devices keep tabs. Data has also become a currency people use to supplement their insufficient Global Coin stipends. The pretense that a person “owns” their own data and can monetize it is supposed to make them feel better about their situation. It doesn’t. Each data transaction puts another piece of one’s soul on the auction block, scrutinized by a predatory system that thrives on want and suffering. And it’s always a buyer’s market. No person in need is going to get ahead selling bits of data. These transactions are just stopgaps until the next Citi Badge stipend hits, a release valve that has thus far kept rebellion at bay.

At first the sensors seemed innocuous, uploading information about when a trashcan was full or telling people where parking spots were available. There were sensors that monitored air quality and ones that made sure streetlights were efficiently managed. People were enthusiastic. But then came the noise sniffers, and the motion sensors, and the drones. Parks and recreation officials were brought on board and encouraged to incorporate cyborg roses into public landscape projects. When first introduced, people were astonished at Eleni Stavrinidou’s work transforming plants into transistors, and now there were rumors of computational forests being grown in remote outposts. Once plants had sensors, people started to get really worried.

Teachers never imagined how sensors would alter classrooms and eventually eliminate them altogether. Adoption of 1:1 devices eroded teacher autonomy until students were spending most of their day with volunteer aides, eyes glued to screens. The teachers that remained were left evaluating student data. In classes where teachers were still allowed to lecture, movement, vibrations and sounds were monitored through sensors embedded in seats. The aim? Supposedly to provide continual feedback regarding student engagement and quality of instruction, but everyone knew it was really to keep track of the content delivered and how students responded. It was chilling.

By that point, the last remaining veteran teachers abandoned the profession. Eventually teacher shortages, austerity budgets, and the corporate education lobby’s campaign for “anytime, anywhere” learning ushered in IoT-enabled learning ecosystems. No one had invested in public education infrastructure for years. Sending everyone home with a device meant there was no longer the expense of feeding poor children. Students too young to stay at home and whose parents were working strivers were packed off to community partners. These partners had been carefully prepared for their role providing standards-aligned summer and out of school time programs. Plus this approach brought education completely under the umbrella of social impact investing, which pleased the financiers. All in all it was a pretty seamless transition. Given how punitive the instruction had become, most felt a sense of relief when the time came to phase out schools entirely.

Ten years out Cam and Li, like the characters in Isaac Asimov’s short story The Fun They Had, have no idea what “going to school” means. Some nights before turning out the lights, Talia tells the girls stories that give them a glimpse into that past. Yet, it is so far removed from their reality that neither can imagine what it must have been like to learn with a group of other kids. To have a human teacher and books, and go to a school building and spend the day there is a frightening prospect. People live isolated lives. Encounters with others are carefully managed. To spend a full day as part of a group, talking no less, seems a perilous and fraught enterprise.

Now everyone is assigned an Artificial Intelligence (AI) “assistant,” a lifelong learning guide when they receive their first education voucher. Cam tolerates hers, but Li is another story. They have quite the adversarial relationship. Li accuses her AI of giving her assessments that underestimate her actual ability, so she has to spend days and days going over material she already knows. Her games are always shorting out at a critical moment, right before her points are logged. The algorithm gives her essays failing marks, even though her mom and Grandpa Rex both say she has a gift for creative writing. Cam says that because the companies are rolling out so many new programs, glitches just going to happen and to not take it personally. People have always had frustrations with their devices, from autocorrect fails to systems freezing unexpectedly, but now that devices control so much more of people’s lives their faults are harder to tolerate. Talia often finds herself having to get up from her work and do a hard shutdown of Li’s tablet to give them both a time out.

The AI conversational agents and the platforms that host them employ a variety of tactics to ensure that Cam, Li, and all the children remain on task. Devices record ISPs and timestamps for logins. Keystroke and facial recognition data is stored, too. Wearable and biometrics are part of the equation. The early headbands and wristbands were incredibly clunky, but five years in they switched to IoT temporary tattoos with sleek designs that prominently identify each child’s designated pathway and rank.

It’s a major milestone when a student attains enough credentials in their portfolio to upload and claim a pathway. The tattoos, not unlike military insignia, help communicate social order and expected etiquette when new people meet. A picture is worth a thousand words, and in a culture that is increasingly non-verbal, a pathway tattoo is an important tool.

To maintain order, the Solutionists knew behavioral engineering had to become central to the educational system. With little meaningful work, systematic mental health training was needed. They wanted people neither too depressed nor too rebellious. Resilience, and grit were traits instilled through apps and gamification; children’s mindsets tracked as closely as the knowledge they acquired. The system was calibrated to identify mental disorders and dissidents early, flagging them for intervention. Both Cam and Li knew kids who had been forcibly plugged into remediation, but it wasn’t discussed openly.

The isolation that resulted from cyber education took a toll on many. Social networks withered. Kids rarely spent time with friends face-to-face. Text-support only went so far in beating back the darkness. Suicide rates climbed, affecting younger and young children. Programmers scrambled to develop new monitoring procedures. The Global Well Being Program was a leader in the field, their cutting-edge algorithms effective, but expensive.

Despite the high cost, sector education officials from all but the poorest communities debited funds for the monitoring service directly from student vouchers to cover the cost. Timely intervention was a matter of life or death, and people were willing to pay. In the post-labor world, monitoring and treating depression was a growth market. Before long tele-therapy and mental-health VR surged past bio-pharmaceuticals as darlings of the venture capital investment crowd.

By 2025 most major and mid-size cities had become “smart cities,” integrating IoT sensors into a wide variety of infrastructure projects. In doing so, officials created a ubiquitous layer of surveillance across the public sphere. Now, in order to access communal spaces, residents had to acquiesce to being watched. Management of the complex IoT systems required expertise far beyond the in-house capacity of most cities; as a result, outsourcing to global corporations became commonplace.

Over time, voters found they had less and less voice in government. Officials kept up appearances for several election cycles, but it became obvious that technology companies like Sysko were really the ones in charge. People wanted to believe elections still mattered. The history modules made a point of expressing how hard people had fought for the right to vote and to fix problems like gerrymandering, but it the years leading up to lockdown it became a hollow exercise. Talia had memories as a teen of the media stirring up outrage over voting irregularities. Looking back, they should have realized something was amiss. The solution to this “problem” was to switch to voting on the Blockchain using Citi Badges. Of course that shift effectively shut all of the off-liners, those who had no badge, out of the process.

Democracy was exposed for the charade it had always been, and it became clear to all that they had been living under fascism for a very long time. The cloud-based computing, telecommunication, and global finance interests united under the Solutionist banner and ensured authoritarian control was firmly in place. Global law enforcement working through the Blockchain Collaborative backed the technocrats in their coup. Now for Cam and Li, voting was a topic touched upon briefly in history modules where it was framed as a messy process no longer suited to the well-structured, transparent society the Solutionists had devised.

As the end game neared, secure and exclusive sanctuaries modeled after billionaire and media mogul Richard Braddock’s island home began to appear. He was among the first to bring world thought leaders together to discuss ways to build and scale Blockchain applications. These thought leaders sold everyone a utopian vision of trust, transparency and collective support. Those purported values fell by the wayside, though, shortly after the lockdown.

People with knowledge of edge computing, IoT, and Blockchain deployment and who had the money constructed sensor free zones to which they could retreat. Of course kids like Cam and Li will never be able to obtain access to such sanctuaries. That world is limited to families that can afford the astronomical costs of having human teachers for their children, whose social networks are such that they don’t need citizen scores or e-portfolios to assert their value to society. Sometimes Cam and Li wonder about the sanctuary kids. Surely there aren’t many of them. Are they lonely? Do they feel isolated, too? Are they glad to be unplugged? Do they know about life on the outside, life on the ledger?

Continue to Part 4: Data Mining Life on the Ledger

Supplemental Links

Internet of Things IBM: Link

History of IoT Sensors: Link

What is Blockchain: Link

Supply Chain IoT: Link

Cash VS Digital Economy and Online Payments: Link

Sidewalk Labs: Link

Smart Cities / Noise Sniffer: Link

IoT and Predictive Policing: Link

Police Body Cameras and AI: Link and Link

Patrol Robots: Link

Street Lights and IoT: Link

IoT Parking: Link

Storm water IoT: Link

Smart Trash Cans: Link

Sensors and Smart Cities: Link

Cognitive Drones: Link

Cyborg Roses: Link

Internet of Battlefield Things: Link

Pay for Success and Big Data: Link

Blockchain Social Impact Token: Link

Human Capital Analytics: Link

Nudge Unit: Link and Link

Game Theory, Human Resources and Social Skills: Link

AI Nudge Bots: Link

Behavior Change for Good: Link

Haptic Devices: Link

Rational Choice and Behavioral Economics: Link

Education and Biocapitalism: Link

Behavioral Science and Social Impact: Link

Making Behavior Change Stick: Link

IoT Classrooms: Link

Sensors Determining Education Quality: Link

Affectiva Emotion Sensing Software: Link

Behavioral Biometrics: Link

World Well Being Project: Link

The Fun They HadLink

Device Use Behavior Tracking in Education: Link

Virtual Agents / USC Institute of Creative Technologies: Link

AI Conversational Agents / Amelia IP Soft: Link and Link

AI Teaching Assistant: Link

Conversational Agents / Articulab: Link

Applied Gaming and Mental Health: Link

Brainwave Data Collection: Link

IoT Tattoos / Duoskin: Link

Pathways to Prosperity / Jobs for the Future: Link

Characterlab / Grit: Link

CASEL / Social Emotional Learning: Link

Serious Games and Mental Health: Link

Government as Platform: Link and Link

IBM Smart Cities: Link

Cisco Smart Cities: Link

New York Smart City: Link

Blockchain Voting: Link

Neckar Island Blockchain Summit: Link

Edge Computing: Link

Blockchain Cryptoeconomics: Link

Blockchain Alliance: Link

-Alison McDowell