Pop culture has been preparing us for a potential dystopian future for decades, but it's very likely that we are already living it. The dystopian technology out now makes the fascist techno-nightmare of George Orwell's 1984 look backwards and primitive in comparison. The implications of these gadgets for humanity's future are not good.
Because of invasive new technologies, more and more data is being collected on individuals than ever before. Social media is being used to spread dangerous propaganda and warp people's perceptions of reality. The threat of a malicious artificial intelligence wreaking havoc on the world sounds less and less like science fiction every day. People are working on weird new gadgets to help protect themselves from all sorts of technological threats, but their efforts may not be enough in the long run.
It's not clear what 2018 will bring in the end but, based on these technologies, the future is looking pretty grim. Browse the list below, and vote up the tech trends that terrify you most.
Amazon Has Won A Patent That Will Allow Them To Track Their Employees' Every Move
Like many of the fictional mega-corporations from dystopian narratives, Amazon is taking employee monitoring to the next level. The company has been approved to try a new technology that will give them real-time information on the locations of their employees at work. The state-of-the-art wristband will track employees' movements to make sure they stay on task, and it will buzz if they begin to deviate from their assigned job in any fashion.
Amazon, naturally, describes the technology in a positive light, claiming it's meant to increase efficiency in its warehouses by guiding workers to the correct locations and ensuring they're packaging the correct items. However, there is something a bit dystopian about constantly tracking an employee's location simply for labor-saving purposes. No more secret breaks for Amazon employees, as the company is watching their every move.
A New Chinese AI Can Clone A User's Voice In Less Than 60 Seconds
Like many scary new tech, Deep Voice was created with largely altruistic intents. The new voice-to-text AI can copy a user's voice and produce an eerily accurate replication after only 60 seconds. While it may sound inherently creepy, Deep Voice does have the potential to be put to use in positive ways. It can replicate the voices of people who have difficulty speaking - or who have lost their voices altogether - due to medical conditions. It can create a personal assistant for young children that talks in a parent's voice, providing an extra sense of safety and security while a parent is away.
However, some find Deep Voice a little too accurate for comfort. Given how quickly it can produce a spot-on imitation, there's concern the technology could be used for fraudulent purposes. People could use Deep Voice as part of identify theft scams, for example, and it can also mimic the voices of public figures. This would make it easier to create fake news stories to possibly further fuel conspiracy theories online. Luckily, it appears Deep Voice isn't beyond the beta testing phase. Perhaps developers can respond to concerns before its release, putting any potential dystopian fears to rest in the minds of consumers.
The AlterEgo Headset Can Hear Your Inner Monologue
In April 2018, developers at MIT's Media Lab announced they had created a device capable of essentially reading users' minds. Called AlterEgo, the complex headset is designed to pick up on neuromuscular signals triggered by inner verbalization. This helps transcribe user thoughts and send them to a computer system. AlterEgo allows users to look up information just by thinking about it, eliminating the need to type a query into a Google search engine manually. So far, AlterEgo has a 92% accuracy rate for transcription. In comparison, voice transcription software generally has 95% accuracy rate. So far, AlterEgo has been successful enough to obey basic user commands such as controlling a Roku device or playing digital chess.
According to creators, the goal is to allow people to communicate with AI devices like Siri and Alexa silently. However, AlterEgo is disturbing in that it shows modern technology is capable of mind reading - a fear spouted in many dystopian novels. The capabilities of this device are spooky. Given privacy concerns regarding devices like smart television sets, is it possible even your internal thoughts could eventually be monitored and sold to advertising companies?
Google Smart Home Technology Could Monitor - And Discipline - Children
While this new tech isn't available just yet, Google announced in 2018 it's planning a series of smart home technologies designed to assist with parenting. While that doesn't sound all that bad at first, the monitoring systems wouldn't just keep an eye on wayward children and alert adults of worrisome behaviors. The new gadget would actually dispense discipline by reducing a child's access to their mobile phone if they misbehave.
Using cameras, microphones, and motion sensors, Google hopes this new tech will actually be able to keep track of whether a child is keeping up with chores. If a chore is neglected, the device will punish the child accordingly and then alert the parents. In addition to taking on a disciplinary role in the household, the technology will periodically make suggestions to parents regarding how to improve a child's behavior. It may recommend, for example, more family time or family dinners.
The device is a bit off putting for a couple of reasons. First off, the constant computer monitoring is fairly invasive, and it's not clear how much access Google would have to user information. Second, many find the idea of parenting - something that requires a great deal of critical thinking - becoming automated a sign of an increasingly dehumanized future.