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The Dwarf Lords: tiny devices, tiny minds and the new enslavement

By Julian Cribb - posted Tuesday, 4 September 2007

If you make a phone call to your friend in the US or Europe today and happen to mention the car you bought is a real old bomb, a computer somewhere will wake up, record your call and you will be screened as a possible terrorism suspect. Your details may well be shared with intelligence agencies round the world.

If you walk across the Sydney Harbour or ANZAC bridges, your actions will be followed by an intelligent network of videocams that can identify and track you through a crowd and analyse your actions without needing a human observer.

If you walk across London today, it’s said, you can appear on TV as many as 300-400 times.


Your supermarket already knows what you eat, and your bank, what you spend and where you spend it. Your airline knows where you go and scores of commercial stickybeaks know all about your purchasing habits, especially if you are so rash as to use the Internet or a credit card.

The Australian government now takes a full genetic profile of every citizen at birth and has done for half a generation. There is actually no need for a national ID card, as your DNA has already provided your own unique barcode - one that is un-forgeable.

If you work in the public service it is probable that everything you do on your computer is being monitored - your email, your documents, your web activity, even your individual keystrokes. (A colleague once had the very disturbing experience of seeing their mouse pointer take off on its own and start opening various files.)

Even if you don’t work for the public service there is now a vast cybernetic scrutiny taking place of the use made by ordinary citizens of the Internet and email, those two underpinnings of modern civilisation.

But what resembles a boon may, in a different light, soon come to resemble a pair of manacles.

If you work in a factory, cameras and computers observe you clock on and clock off, and count the minutes between, informing the payroll office accordingly.


If you work in a call centre, not only your time but all your actions are measured, precisely timed and recorded - ostensibly “for training purposes”. In reality so you can be sacked more easily. One infraction and a truckload of data is available with which to impeach you of laziness, incompetence or inefficiency.

For the sake of public safety, we are told, road vehicles may soon carry mandatory GPS devices to control their speed in restricted zones. Of course these devices also know exactly where your vehicle is, any time, night or day.

Robot aircraft now prowl battlefields and assassinate enemy captains. Soon they will prowl cities and highways under the guise of traffic, crime or terrorism control.

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This article is based on a paper presented at The Governance of Science and Technology, a Joint GovNet/CAPPE/UNESCO Conference on August 9-10, 2007 at the Australian National University.

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About the Author

Julian Cribb is a science communicator and author of The Coming Famine: the global food crisis and what we can do to avoid it. He is a member of On Line Opinion's Editorial Advisory Board.

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