Friday, September 11, 2015

Superintelligence in the Flesh

A common theme I've been discussing in my recent posts is that the AI view of superintelligence is probably incomplete. If we exclude human intelligence and consciousness at the individual and collective level from the equation, then the story is only half right. As I've explained, humans and machines (i.e. human technology) are not separate or escaping from one another but in a complex state of integration, symbiosis, and feedback. Again, this is in contrast to the AI-view and is more akin to the global brain or cybernetic view of superintelligence.

With that said, I'd like to present a possible scenario or way to think about this in terms of the interplay between machines (computation) and humanity via our genetic code.

First, what big data teaches us is that it is not merely about the sophistication of the machine that leads to better results or a higher level of intelligence but, most importantly, the amount of data available--hence, big data. A perfect example of this is seen with one of the most successful and practical applications of AI today, IBM's Watson. What makes Watson so successful is good programming AND access to tons and tons of data--whether this be for winning Jeopardy, successfully diagnosing medical conditions, and the myriad of other uses we see Watson being applied to today. However, as I've stated before, we need to keep in mind that the source of this data is almost entirely derived from humans. Furthermore, as more and more of our data is digitized and accessible, the intelligence of the machine is subsumed by an ocean of human data, intelligence, and behavior.

The proper way to think about this is in terms of conscious and subconscious (or unconscious) processing of information and activity in both the brain and the body. In this case, most of what takes place in our brains and bodies is automated and outside our conscious awareness or control. Neuroscience bears this out as does a basic understanding of the human body when it comes to digestion, heart function, our immune system, and the myriad of processes that take place 24/7 to keep us alive. So, expand this out from the individual now to our collective species and what you see is that the application of automated systems (say, narrow or weak AI) is akin to the building of a global subconscious network (this brings to mind Jung's concept of the collective unconscious) from which superintelligence will eventually emerge. This event is popularly referred to as the Singularity but often wrongly thought of as the birth of strong AI or artificial superintelligence. This may be splitting hairs but my point is that it will not be purely artificial or machine-like but reflective of and deeply connected to humanity. As it says in Revelation, the beast rises out of the sea--the masses of people spread across the earth. Superintelligence rises out of humanity.

That said, once superintelligence arises we are told that it then tells the world to make "an image"--a physical representation of someone or something, most often a sculpture or idol--that it can breathe life into (paralleling Genesis when He creates Adam and Eve), which serves as its mouthpiece, representative, and executive arm throughout the earth. It is this "image of the beast" that we read about in Revelation that many interpret as being the Antichrist, which I originally thought to be a clear reference to AI. However, I think there may be an even better way to think about this.

I've already laid out that I think the beast is a global superintelligence arising from humanity. Again, it is not quite AI but a cybernetic, socio-technological, hybrid, or human-machine intelligence. So what about this "image of the beast" thing? What is that? I'm now wondering whether this is actually the result of something much more complex and sophisticated involving genetic engineering of the human genome. In that case, the "image of the beast"/Antichrist personage we see in Revelation and mentioned in other places in the bible is not a Terminator-like robot or android (as I originally conceived many years ago) but, very likely, the perfect fusion of man and machine. Notice the parallel duality here between Jesus who is said to be both fully God and fully human and "the image"/Antichrist, which in this case is fully machine (the product of human technology) and fully man. As well, "the image" will likely be the first of his kind, born not by natural human means but in a sort of supernatural conception when superintelligence (the beast) breathes life into it, just as the Father breathed life into Mary's womb.

It's funny because I just watched The Age of Ultron not too long ago and there were some inklings of this in the writers' minds with the creation of one of their characters referred to as the Vision. AI (Ulton in this case) felt incomplete and attempted to reach a state of perfection by creating a more human-like body that it could inhabit. Of course, this body was not just a normal human body but the product of its own handiwork in fashioning together at a molecular level the perfect synthesis of biology and nano-technology. Spoiler alert if you haven't seen the movie yet: Of course, the Avengers steal this new cybernetic or synthetic superhuman body from Ultron at which point Thor (a god) decides to bring it to life in a Frankensteinian bolt of lightning. Then, it (the Vision) leaps out with superhuman strength and god-like levitation powers and the Avengers ask who or what it is. It says, "I am"--the same thing God told Moses at the burning bush and, as well, the same name or title Jesus used in reference to himself, claiming he was God in the flesh.

Keep in mind, none of these things are coincidence. The movie is filled with mentions of "trying to play God" and dealing with theological issues of free will, struggle of the creator vs. creation, and so on. One writer even said that the Age of Ultron "may be the most spiritual superhero movie yet." Whatever it's worth, I think the combined creative genius of the writers and what they came up with by drawing upon both theological motifs and advanced science (or science fiction) was quite interesting. Not surprisingly, the "Image" in the bible and the "Vision" in Avengers seem to have some similarities…though in this case the Vision sides with humans over AI.

One last thing, we should keep in mind that the human genome is a digital code formed out of four base pairs: A, C, T, and G. Though I don't think human intelligence and human consciousness are fully computable, our genetic code may just be. If that's the case, machines could compute on the entire human genome and then genetically code the perfect human being. Although it probably won't look exactly like the Vision, we do know that it'll have a god-complex and force everyone to worship the superintelligent beast, which gave it life.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

AI and Theology

In a recent podcast interview with Singularity 1 on 1, Roman Yampolskiy, a computer scientist and author of numerous publications, recently discussed a fascinating section in his new book, "Artificial Superintelligence: A Futuristic Approach," where he lists the similarities between AI and theology.

Here, he says:
"I'm very interested in historical aspects of [AI] research. …we keep finding research papers, peer-reviewed papers, going back to the '80s, '70s, '60s--I think the earliest is 1885--where people explain this exact problem: we'll have machines; they'll become better than us; we'll have competition. I was curious--well, how far back does it go? ...AI has history in philosophy, in theology, early philosophers. If you look at theology--forget about whether religion is true or false, just as a study--people took a number of assumptions: there's a creator, he gave us a book of instructions. From that point on, you can see there's really a struggle of creator to control creation. And all the concepts, if you give them scientific names, map on [or parallel] perfectly. You have this designer of biological robots [humans] who wants to give them an ethical code, rules of conduct, reward and punishment--everything maps on perfectly! And the fact that after, I don't know, 5000 years of research, theology didn't come to a solution is not very encouraging that we are going to [have one] in the next 30 years. It seems like a huge problem and what we're doing is actually harder. In theology you have superintelligence trying to control lower intelligence. We are trying to control god. We are trying to control a superintelligent being."
If you decide to listen to the podcast, he says this about 49 or 50 minutes into the interview. He is then asked whether this is just a coincidence or whether there's is something deeper going on. Roman replies by referencing the book, "Superintelligence," where Nick Bostrom explains that we could be living in a simulation, implying that a superintelligent entity or designer has created the simulation. To someone that doesn't believe in God, this is probably the closest admission you'll get to a creator/intelligent designer. An atheist might say, "If given a choice, I would be much more willing to accept that the universe is a simulation by some kind of artificial superintelligence vs. the biblical account of creation."

Then there's another view. Recently, Britain's Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, who is also a member of SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestial Intelligence), wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times explaining that if we are to find extra-terrestial life somewhere in the universe, it is quite likely it will robotic or some form of artificial intelligence. At the very end, he says, "They may be our own remote descendants."

So, there you have it. Don't believe in God or the bible or any of that narrow-minded stuff? No problem. At least you can believe in the next best thing: an artificial superintelligence created us--either by simulation or by direct decent. And if it shows up and says, "Hey there! I created you and I'm God. Worship me cause I'll help you achieve immortality and all that stuff that people have been looking for all these years"--what will all the atheists, non-believing scientists, and leaders of the world do? If there's a story they're willing to believe, this is it. They're already telling us what to expect.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Cybernetic Singularity

In an article posted a few years back at Discover Magazine titled "The AI Singularity is Dead; Long Live the Cybernetic Singularity," Kyle Munkittrick makes an interesting point that I've never considered, but I think we can improve upon when it comes to the machine vs. cybernetic view of intelligence.

In the spirit of my last post, he agrees that "an exponential explosion of intelligence towards near deity levels of super-intelligent AI"--the AI singularity--is unlikely to happen. Instead, humans and machines are in the process of a grand convergence, augmenting human intelligence, toward something more along the lines of a cybernetic singularity, as he refers to it.

I agree. But here's the point he made that I think is rather interesting: machine intelligence is largely being used to augment our left-brain activities--logic, calculation, mathematics, etc.--while humans will still remain superior for those activities primarily associated with the right brain--creativity, imagination, and intuition. 

Unfortunately, the left brain/right brain divide has been largely debunked by neuroscience and is, at best, considered a major oversimplification of how the brain works. That said, regardless of where math  and creativity reside in the brain, it's clear that machines do excel in one and humans in the other…so this is a good way to think about it. But there's also a better (and more scientifically accurate) way as well.

Rather than using the right brain/left brain example, we should be thinking of the interplay between human and machine intelligence in terms of conscious and subconscious processing. Let me explain.

From most of what I read, current research in neuroscience shows that the overwhelming majority of processing taking place in the human brain is at the subconscious or unconscious level. Not only is this true for brain activity--including our thoughts, intuition, creativity, and intelligence--but it is certainly true for our body as well since most of our bodily functions are highly regulated systems all working around the clock without our conscious awareness or direction (the autonomic nervous system, as it is called). 

Thus, whether we are referring to the brain or the body, the overwhelming majority of activity, processing, etc. is taking place at both the subconscious/unconscious level and is highly automated. We can put it another way: consciousness and human intelligence emerge from of a large range of unconscious automated processes. Automation does not preclude consciousness, consciousness requires it. 

At first thought this may seem to validate the AI singularity view since machine consciousness might result from automation, right? I don't think so, since modern neuroscience also shows that the human brain is far more complex and interconnected than we originally thought. In that case, we will probably never be able to simulate the human brain in a machine, but we will probably grow one…and are growing one currently at the global scale.

Applying greater amounts of automation and AI for the functioning of the global brain does not mean that technology will become conscious or superintelligent--it means the global brain will. This is the cybernetic singularity--not just an explosion of intelligence but a massive convergence of networked humanity into a powerful monolithic system of god-like omniscience. The bible refers to it as the beast…and it will have a mind of its own, though it will be the world's mind. It will speak through a ruler Christians refer to as the Antichrist, which the bible refers to as the "image of the beast," which humanity will create: part human, part machine; synthetically human, virtually divine.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Global Avatar

Elon Musk, Steven Hawking, and a long list of scientists believe artificial intelligence is no longer science-fiction and may one day present a danger to society. Musk has likened super-intelligent machines to nuclear bombs and fears we may be "summoning a demon"; and Hawking has said that AI "could spell the end of the human race."

Given my writings over the years equating AI to the fearsome biblical entity known as the beast or Antichrist enslaving humanity in the end times, I thought I'd take the opportunity to expound on the notion of machine superintelligence and whether this is indeed what the bible is predicting.

In my opinion, the short answer is "not quite" and the long answer is that I've come to realize that the debate over artificial intelligence is much more complex and nuanced than I first considered many years ago.

To put it quite simply, the Skynet view of superintelligence espoused by Musk, Hawking, and others is probably too narrow. Believing AI will eventually outpace human-level intelligence and possibly wipe out the human race stems from an implicit assumption that technology and human society are evolving along somewhat separate, though parallel, lines. Thus, the thinking goes, at some point in the future, technology will become so advanced that it will develop a mind of its own and have no need for us. This is the AI-centric view since the focus is largely concerned with AI and its development over time.

On the other hand, there's a completely different view that sees technology and society mutually influencing one another in terms of a highly-integrated evolutionary process. This is what we might call the cybernetic view, incorporating the more recent framework of complex adaptive systems, which also places more emphasis on the symbiotic relationship between man and machine at both the individual and societal level (although cybernetics is not widely known, it did make its way into pop-culture via the prefix "cyber-" and the word "cyborg", which is short for cybernetic organism. At larger scales, human society, our economy, and financial markets are all examples of cybernetic organisms or, more commonly, complex adaptive systems.)

Extending this line of thinking further, there are many groups of people that are less concerned with technology developing a mind of its own but believe instead that technology + society = a global brain. Here is a summary of this view:
The Global Brain can be defined as the self-organizing network formed by all people on this planet together with the information and communication technologies that connect and support them. As the Internet becomes faster, smarter, and more encompassing, it increasingly links its users into a single information processing system, which functions like a nervous system for the planet Earth. The intelligence of this system is collective and distributed: it is not localized in any particular individual, organization or computer system. It rather emerges from the interactions between all its components—a property characteristic of a complex adaptive system. Such a distributed intelligence may be able to tackle current and emerging global problems that have eluded more traditional approaches. Yet, at the same time it will create technological and social challenges that are still difficult to imagine, transforming our society in all aspects. (Source)
Personally, I find this view makes much more sense. When viewing society and technology as an integrated organism, remarks made by Hawking, Musk, and others hold less relevance. If some Skynet-like superintelligence were to emerge from the billions of people across the earth integrated through cyberspace would it then try to kill us off—the very thing that gives it life? Not likely. Why? Because in this case, "it" is actually "we".

When the idea that the Antichrist (most often thought of as a terrible despotic leader of a one world government who hates Christians) may not actually be human but AI first occurred to me in the early 2000s, I thought of this mostly from the mechanistic/machine view of AI. Though I won't change the title of this blog, I think it's important to recognize this shift in thinking since, instead of the Antichrist and Beast killing all humans (the Skynet-Terminator view), we see that they are much more selective than that, killing only those who don't take the mark. Why is this important, you ask?

Well, because, if we view the beast from the global brain/cybernetic standpoint, it makes sense that it would not kill everyone off or pose a systemic threat in terms of man vs. machine since it really is an extension of man. There's a lot of ways we could discuss this but here's the easiest and simplest way to think about how these things fit together. Imagine if we took all the data that can be digitally stored from you—everything: every picture of you, website you've visited, phone conversation, email, google search, etc. and then used it to create a virtual avatar of yourself. Imagine we did this 15 years ago in the year 2000. Most likely, this avatar would be a fairly rough approximation given the lack of technology and data available at the time. But, as we move forward each year and as our technology improves and more and more of our lives become digitized and stored online, that avatar becomes more and more lifelike until eventually we could imagine that it would represent a very close approximation and could even trick many people into thinking that they were interacting with you (online that is). 

Of course, this is a variation of the Turing test, which Alan Turing proposed as a means of testing a "machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human." (Wikipedia) I use the avatar example because this puts the focus not so much on the intelligence of the machine but on the source and quality of the data, which comes from us.

Now, let's take this further and scale it up. It is highly unlikely in my mind that your virtual avatar or any individual avatar for that matter could actually become intelligent, self-aware, or conscious in the way you or I are for the simple reason that your data is an expression of you but it is not you. Intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness are real-time properties of living things. Unless your data is being stored in real-time through your brain waves and bodily functions, it will always be a shadow of the living you but not you largely given the difficulty of acquiring such data at a pervasive level. 

This is not the case for society. For the avatar-Turing test, imagine all the data being collected on everyone possible and then using that to create a composite image or avatar of the world. What would it look like? How would it think? Would it be intelligent? Would it be self-aware? How could it become more self-aware, intelligent, or powerful? How would it relate to those that refused to join and be a part of it? 

The answers to all these questions of course have already been provided. It will look like the world. It will think like the world. It will be superintelligent from the world's point-of-view. It will be self-aware since it is aware of you. It will become more self-aware, intelligent, and powerful by forcing the world to take the mark, which will give it unrestricted access to every one's data. Those unwilling to take the mark are automatic threats (since they exalt the individual over the collective good) and must be killed.

What is the beast then? The global brain governing itself to ensure its ongoing survival. Is it AI? Not exactly. It is part human, part machine, i.e. cybernetic. Who or what is the image of the beast, aka the Antichrist? Its incarnated form or physical avatar (in replacement of Christ) to serve as the voice, image, representative, and savior for the world. The bible says that the beast tells the world to create the image (a non-living thing) and then breathes life into it so, most likely, our technology at the time will allow for the creation of a synthetic human that will be infused with the power of the beast, Skynet, global brain—whatever you want to call it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Is the Image of the Beast?

From the very first chapter of the bible, we are told that God created man and woman "in his image." Although this may refer to a number of attributes, it is clear that man's intelligence is the most striking example of our unique identity in Creation.

We also find that this biblical concept of "image" does not merely imply the reflection of an object or person but also becomes an inanimate object or statue when humans create idols, referred to as "images", and worship them instead of their own Creator. Something for which God is very displeased and strongly warns against.

To add even more context to this concept and symbol of "image" throughout the bible, eventually used in reference to the beast, we see it gain its fullest meaning when applied to Jesus, who is said to be the "image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). In this case now, we see "image" may be fully understood as a personification, embodiment, or, in the case of Jesus, incarnation of deity.

In ancient times, these images were often great statues having human or animal-like features that people carved out of stone or wood. As human skill and technology increased, these worshiped images reflected us more and more in astonishing detail until, when we consider the height of Greek and Roman sculpting, they were nearly lifelike--a mirror of the human soul.

Today, the images we are creating have evolved beyond the point of physical likeness, and now approach the apex of human creativity and power to reflect the human mind. The question we must ask: Will we one day breathe life into our own creation such that it speaks like us?

In Revelation 13:15, we are told this is so for it says, "It was allowed to put breath into the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could even speak; and it was allowed to cause anyone who would not worship the image of the beast to be put to death."

One day, human science and technology will evolve to such a miraculous and divine state that we will give the breath of life to our own creation. And, yet, God warns that this final image, which fully reflects the heart and soul of man, will be a terrifying beast enslaving us to worship it.

In Daniel 7 we are told this last beast will be unlike anything that has risen on the earth before it. Will it be artificial intelligence? In describing the previous "beasts" or kingdoms ruling up until that point, they are all given either human or animal characteristics. What is the last beast made out of? Metal.

"Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left." Daniel 7:19

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A.I. Antichrist Connection Is Over 100 Years Old

When the A.I. Antichrist connection came to me around the year 2000, I wondered for quite some time if anyone else had ever considered this. Naturally, my first thought was to do some Google searches and see if anything popped up. When nothing did, it was pretty safe to assume that this set of words in combination was too rare and not yet indexed in Google's "memory banks" or it hadn't yet been uploaded on the web.

However, after a recent interview I did on the show Steel on Steel (use promo code "Veritas" to listen to the interview here) regarding this topic, someone from their audience informed me that the idea of the Antichrist/Beast being A.I. can actually be traced all the way back to the year 1902 in an obscure commentary on Revelation by the controversial scholar and theologian E.W. Bullinger.

For example, in reference to one strange verse which speaks of giving life to an "image"--a statue or idol--that ends up killing anyone who doesn't worship it (Rev 13:15), Bullinger sees the fulfillment of this prophecy in the development of superhuman machines by saying:

Nikola Tesla, the Hungarian-American electrician, boldly declares (in The Century magazine for June, 1900), that he has a plan for the construction of an automaton which shall have its "own mind," and be able, "independent of any operator, to perform a great variety of acts and operations as if it had intelligence." He speaks of it, not as a miracle, of course, but only as an invention which he "has now perfected." But again we say we care not how it is going to be done. God's word declares that it will be done, and we believe it. "Human energy" is getting on, and it will, ere long, be superhuman when developed by the Satanic agency of the second Beast, exercised through the human False Prophet. We already hear of talking machines; with "a little" Satanic power thrown in, it will be a miracle very easily worked. [emphasis mine]

So there you have it. Whether or not people have made this seemingly obvious connection prior to 1902 is unknown to me. So far, this seems to be the earliest recorded mention. If any of you know otherwise, please feel free to contact me or post a comment.

Although I have linked to the commentary on Revelation from Bullinger above, you can find the entire book here with the specific portion quoted on page 216. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why the Chip is Inevitable

In an age where most personal information can be found online, where access to bank accounts, credit card numbers, and email are routinely hacked and stolen, most of us believe our data is safe due to one thing: the password.

There's only one problem: "No matter how complex, no matter how unique, your passwords can no longer protect you." Those are the words of senior writer Mat Honan for Wired magazine who, in the summer of 2012, was the victim of a sophisticated hack into several of his accounts. Thing is, his passwords were all robust: using a combination of symbols, letters, and numbers—ranging from seven to nineteen characters in length.

"Since that awful day," Mat explains, "I've devoted myself to researching the world of online security. And what I have found is utterly terrifying. Our digital lives are simply too easy to crack."

After being hacked himself, he spent the summer learning how it is done. What did he find out? In "two minutes and $4 to spend at a sketchy foreign website, I could report back with your credit card, phone, and Social Security numbers and your home address. Allow me five minutes more and I could be inside your accounts for, say, Amazon, Best Buy, Hulu, Microsoft, and Netflix. With yet 10 more, I could take over your AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Give me 20—total—and I own your PayPal."

Keep in mind, Mat is not a sophisticated hacker. He was merely one individual motivated by his unfortunate experience to see just how easy it is. The real problem, he says, are two groups: overseas crime syndicates and bored teenagers—both of which are getting better at what they do.

One hacker, who goes by the name "Cosmo", was part of a group that took down sites ranging from the Nasdaq to the CIA, not to mention hacking the personal info of Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey. When finally caught, Cosmo turned out to be 15.

Of course, this is big business now. As Mat explains, "Malware and virus-writing used to be something hobbyist hackers did for fun...Not anymore. Sometime around the mid-2000s, organized crime took over." Today, cybercrime is a rapidly growing multi-billion dollar industry preying on individuals, businesses, and large financial institutions.

Apparently, "last spring hackers broke into the security company RSA and stole data relating to its SecurID tokens, supposedly hack-proof devices that provide secondary codes to accompany passwords. RSA never divulged just what was taken, but it's widely believed that the hackers got enough data to duplicate the numbers the tokens generate. If they also learned the tokens' device IDs, they'd be able to penetrate the most secure systems in corporate America."

The point of failure in all of this is the password—the one thing everyone is relying upon to keep their information secure. Though Mat clearly believes those days are over and that radical changes will have to be made—more on that later—he does provide some do's and don'ts of password protection:

  • Reuse passwords: If you do, a hacker who gets just one of your accounts will own them all. 
  • Use a dictionary word as your password: If you must, then string several together into a pass phrase. 
  • Use standard number substitutions: Think "P455w0rd" is a good password? N0p3! Cracking tools now have those built in. 
  • Use a short password—no matter how weird. Today's processing speeds mean that even passwords like "h6!r$q" are quickly crackable. Your best defense is the longest possible password. 

  • Enable two-factor authentication when offered. When you log in from a strange location, a system like this will send you a text message with a code to confirm. Yes, that can be cracked, but it's better than nothing. 
  • Give bogus answers to security questions. Think of them as a secondary password. Just keep your answers memorable. My first car? Why, it was a "Camper Van Beethoven Freaking Rules." 
  • Scrub your online presence. One of the easiest ways to hack into an account is through your email and billing address information. Sites like Spokeo and offer opt-out mechanisms to get your information removed from their databases. 
  • Use a unique, secure email address for password recoveries. If a hacker knows where your password reset goes, that's a line of attack. So create a special account you never use for communications. And make sure to choose a username that isn't tied to your it can't be easily guessed. 

Although these are critical for making our accounts harder to hack, they still don't make it impossible.

In fact, given how often various governments, large corporations, and highly sensitive networks get hacked, individuals have little safety other than not being valuable targets. However, as viruses created by hackers grow more sophisticated, pervasive, and self-replicating—much like the common cold or flu—larger swathes of society get hit. Although a bad flu may put us back for a couple days, try a virus that steals your personal information, ruins your identity, and then transfers all the money out of your bank account.

So, given that most of us online have, says Mat, "entrusted everything we have to a fundamentally broken system," what does next month's cover story of Wired advocate for all of us online? A solution that most today would never accept:

"The only way forward is real identity verification: to allow our movements and metrics to be tracked in all sorts of ways and to have those movements and metrics tied to our actual identity...we need a system that makes use of what the cloud already knows: who we are and who we talk to, where we go and what we do there, what we own and what we look like, what we say and how we sound, and maybe even what we think."

Essentially, rather than relying on our limited human memories to retain an easily hackable 1-dimensional line of code, we allow the government to track us as living 4-dimensional passwords (location plus time) navigating cyberspace and our physical environment.

As Mat admits, such a shift will "involve significant investment and inconvenience, and it will likely make privacy advocates deeply wary. It sounds creepy. But the alternative is chaos and theft."

Let's assume Mat is correct and that, with the rapidly growing threat of hacking, identity theft, and stolen funds, some form of location and data-tracking surveillance will be necessary in the future. If so, given how many people would prefer not to have their every move tracked, we need to consider a third alternative: large segments of society simply pulling the plug, disconnecting their lives entirely from the internet.

For many, this wouldn't be a hard choice. But what about all those whose livelihood now depends on the web? The internet has not only reshaped the economy, but created an entirely new one too. How many would be willing to give it all up—their jobs, their income—if they knew most of their actions would be monitored? If you're not doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide right?

Sadly, this unfolding scenario is not merely one of a power-hungry government wanting to exert greater control of its citizens—it is also one of bored teenagers and overseas crime syndicates wreaking havoc on people's lives for profit and, sometimes, just for fun.

But, let's not kid ourselves; this could be a huge gain for the government as well. Are you paying all your taxes? Are you claiming unemployment, disability, and/or working under the table at the same time? There are a lot of people out there gaming the system that would either be cut-off or forced to give the State its dues. Running the government isn't cheap. So, not only is there a real problem, there's a clear incentive.

Where does all this end? As our lives slowly merge with the web, privacy, like copyrights, will become something merely argued about in court. Eventually, hard decisions will have to be made. If people want to participate in the economy, use government resources and services, buy or sell anything, as Mat points out, they're going to have to make huge sacrifices.

If, however, people prefer to unplug from the system entirely, then, most likely, they'll have to adapt to a more self-sufficient, less technologically dependent, and far simpler way of life. That is, before the day we had to worry about passwords, self-replicating malware, and overseas crime syndicates stealing our identities.

Question is: Does all this warrant Big Brother getting under our skin? Hopefully, not for many years from now.