Outsourcing & Tracking the Service Sector

A recent article on Kinect hackers mentions the ease with which the new Microsoft game platform can drive real world devices:

When Kinect appeared on store shelves, Adafruit Industries, an online seller of DIY electronics kits, offered $1,000, then $3,000, to the first person who could analyze Kinect’s innards and share the information with developers at large. It took all of six days before the Kinect’s secrets were cracked. . . . Geeks around the world set to work. One strapped a Kinect to a Roomba, letting him steer the robot vacuum cleaner by waving his hand. Others used Kinect to control World Of Warcraft characters with their bodies rather than keyboards.

Cool, right? Well, perhaps not so much. A website based on the film “Sleep Dealer” spells out a business model for using technology to further stratify the labor force:

The 20th century generated the tools to globalize and maximize production. Computers simplified tasks, the Internet connected every human being, robots climbed stairs, vacuumed carpets and pumped hearts. There was only one missing piece, a link that could tie them all together, and Cybracero Systems discovered it: We call it THE NODE®. Through basic nodes implanted in the wrists, ankles and eyes of workers, they are able to connect to and control human-like machines in the first world. In this way, any job, even manual labor, can be accomplished.

Some call it “unbelievable”. We call it “Telepresence”. Through Telepresence, a chauffer in Tijuana nodes up and drives a cab through the streets of London. A nanny in Tijuana babysits a toddler in Beverly Hills. A crew from Tijuana raise a skyscraper in Chicago. Soon, Telepresence will be globalized.

For a refreshingly bleak libertarian perspective on pervasively distributed “copies” of human selves, check out Robin Hanson’s discussion with Russ Roberts.

Many will likely bridle at the idea of implanted nodes in workers. But when the “freedom of contract” crowd wraps its minds around this future, I’m sure they can think of it as a worker’s God-given right to a certain form of bodily care. A recent issue of Harper’s also mentioned some changing mores on implants. For example, from cables on Guantanamo detainees:

“I’ve just thought of something,” [a Saudi Arabian] added, and proposed implanting detainees with an electronic chip containing information about them and allowing their movements to be tracked with Bluetooth. This was done with horses and falcons, [he added]. [White House advisor Brennan] replied “Horses don’t have good lawyers.” [Harper’s, Feb. 2011, p. 16]

And from “cost-saving ideas submitted” to the “Securing Americans’ Value & Efficiency Program:”

Implant a chip under the skin of our combat troops in order to locate them quickly. It would find our captured troops in order to locate them quickly. It would find our captured troops and save the taxpayers thousands of dollars. [Harper’s, Feb. 2011, p. 18]

And someday it might be possible to track “illegals” like FedEx packages.

While it’s all too easy to be overenchanted by futurism, I’m glad to see legal scholars grappling with robotized futures. As Ryan Calo observes, robots create new privacy concerns. Robotizing humans creates even greater ones.

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