Fair warning: Geek Alert.
I recently finished an entertaining novel — Daemon by Daniel Suarez. A techno-thriller that excels in its class. What I loved about it was that it got the technical details right, as far as I could tell, and it has an interesting view of the future that I hadn’t considered before. All somewhat plausible, except for the peak oil problem. Maybe he handles that in the sequel.
Then Google introduced Buzz. The mobile Google Maps version has a couple of functions — Near Me Now and Explore Right Here that overlay invisible messages on your map, on your phone. Yeah, advertising. “Here’s a great restaurant. Mention Buzz for a 10% discount.” But also all recent posts — from people — near you. So you have the potential for a big conversation going on among people who are near each other, but it’s all happening via their Google phones. Visually.
Imagine this moved to specially equipped sunglasses. You’d have fewer people running into street lamps and each other that way. Overlaid on what you are seeing is what they call “visual graffiti,” i.e., things people and businesses are “saying” nearby. The news stories are all about whether Buzz will be the end of Twitter (we can hope) and Facebook (probably), but that doesn’t begin to address the real implications.
In the novel, this capability is combined with online gaming. You know millions of people do this, right? “Live” in virtual worlds on the Internet? In the novel, the result is a network of people who respond to messages and actors in the “game,” resulting in a sort of parallel universe. Actually a big crime syndicate or a group of good guys who will save the world, depending upon your point of view and the sequel. Terribly difficult to trace, because you can’t “see” what’s going on unless you make it past all of those levels that gamers master. And of course the game knows who you are, so can refuse to show you things unless you’re a member of the syndicate.
All ordinary people see is the points at which the “game” interacts with the “real” world — somebody shoots somebody or drives a car into a storefront or buys a package of cigarettes. You can’t see what “caused” the event. Wire tapping becomes irrelevant, and you have to decrypt a bunch of Internet traffic to figure out what’s going on. Good luck with that.
OK, that’s fiction. But what will the kids do with “Near Me Now”? I bet some resourceful college student will set up a business to supply answers to test questions on the spot, for a fee. He or she could offer the service for $1000 a term to classmates, post a photo or OCR scrape of his own test answers so nearby subscribers could see them. Students will check their phones at the door, but that won’t work for long, because they’ll have other devices that are harder to trace within months.
“Google’s Big Fiber Play: What Gives?” Ian Paul published this article on Feb. 11 in the online version of PC World. http://www.pcworld.com/article/189152/googles_big_fiber_play_what_gives.html. Gee, I wonder. So Google announces Buzz and its intention to become a telecom provider. Wonder where Google is going?
Every time I read techno-fiction I say to myself “well, that was interesting, but it can’t happen, or at least it won’t happen in my lifetime.” And then I’m surprised. This time I was surprised within days. It’s fun in some ways. And it’s frightening.
I believe I will write a magazine article titled “Buzz: 5 Bad Ideas and 5 Good Ideas.” Or maybe two articles: “Bad Guys Guide to Buzz” and “Good Guys Guide to Buzz.” And then I’m going to create a service that overlays messages from public restrooms all over the world on Google Maps. “Pee Here” graffiti. Now that would be using Buzz for good, don’t you think?