Give and Take: Privacy and Technological Advancement

I used to not believe in Science Fiction. However, in November, Philip Evans gave a TedTalk. In his TedTalk, Philip Evans told a story from 10 years ago:

“NORA is the Non-Obvious Relational Awareness system, a real-time fraud control system developed by Jeff, which supports all of the casinos in Las Vegas. We were in the security room of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, and on the monitor I saw this happen. A woman was playing blackjack against the dealer. There was nobody else at the table. She was winning too much. They know how likely that is, and this wasn’t likely. So the first thing they do is they use facial recognition, see if she’s staying at the hotel. She wasn’t. Then they can kind of run the cameras backwards, tracing her movements back through the hotel to the parking garage, where they found her car. They could then run NORA to find who owned the car. The car was owned by Hertz Las Vegas. Within a second or so, NORA pulled down the Hertz Las Vegas application.Now they knew who the woman was. Where was she staying? Well, they pool the data across the hotels. It turned out she was staying in a hotel across the street. Had she gambled in that hotel? No.Very strange behavior, staying in one hotel, gambling in another. Then came the really interesting thing.NORA looked for a connection between the woman and the dealer, because a very high fraction of fraud in Las Vegas is committed when the staff are actually in illicit collaboration with customers. It turned out, what NORA did was to look through 6,000 databases, public and private, some owned by the Bellagio, some by other hotels, some police records, and so on. It turned out that 10 years earlier,this woman’s brother had been the dealer’s roommate. And it took NORA six seconds to work that fact out. It cost the woman and the dealer six years. This was NORA in action.”

Today NORA is just another example of information data, the data that technology pools from of our every movement. Today, informational data can go even deeper, considering our increased dependence and use on internet and technology. I’m going to be very blunt here: systems like NORA terrify me. The casino woman and the dealer were committing a crime, NORA was technically just acting as a super-intelligent cop, to put it simply. My concern is what happens when systems like NORA are accessible to all, as it is starting to become. Let’s think of the final tool used in NORA’s calculation, connecting the woman to the dealer. We do this exact same thing every day. When we log into Facebook, we are browsing through the common person’s relationships, and very rarely do we need their consent to do so. Is it only a matter of time until the rest of NORA’s calculations become completely integrated into our society, in such a way we may not even recognize the stalker-like nature of our actions? I think this is highly probable, especially in big business.

I want to analyze NORA’s actions from one more perspective, a more positive one. I am going to use the term “pattern-analysis” to describe exactly what NORA does, and what big data in general does. This pattern-analysis is also exemplified in genomic science, also evidenced by Philip Evans. When genome mapping becomes affordable under health care because of systems like NORA, health care will be more effective and efficient. A quick map of your genome at your doctor visit will quickly identify any sickness you may have. Beyond that, even, this pattern-analysis can be personalized, to any individual who has somehow left their mark, whether it be in the cyber world or not. Those computer ads that are exactly what you just shopped for elsewhere? That’s pattern-analysis, or big data. What to be is so notable about pattern-analysis systems, is that they require nothing more from you than going about your daily life, to know everything about you. You don’t even have to connect to the internet. Just by being entered in a companies database, enrolled in school, or recognized on a security camera, those who control pattern-analysis systems have a quick path to piecing together your entire being.

Sounds like something out a sci-fi movie, doesn’t it?


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