Friday, April 06, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 26

Inspired by the Google's Project Glass, I decided to come up with a rather dystopian vision of where this technology might eventually lead us. Took a few liberties in the telling but, there again, taking of liberties was very much a recurring theme...

Something You Witnessed Today

The man in the grey suit sat on the park bench with a black briefcase at his side. The fingers of his right hand drummed on his knee as he turned his head back and forth to scan the path either side of him.  After a few minutes, a man in jeans and a black t-shirt walked casually along the path from the east side of the park and sat down on the far end of the bench. He opened a lunch box and extracted a cheese and ham sandwich, which he placed on the bench beside him.

“You look nervous, Tony.” he said, not looking at the man in the grey suit. “You need to try and relax.”

Tony Denton looked anything but relaxed. He continued to gaze around him, adjusting his glasses with one finger, his forehead lightly dappled with sweat.

“I’m trying.”

“Tony, there is nothing to be worried about. We’re just two guys having lunch in the park.”

“If they find out what you had me do-“

“Hush, Tony.” said the man quietly, but there was steel in his voice. “We talked about this. They’re not going to find out.”

“Is any of this even legal?”

             Sam Waxley turned to look at the man at the opposite end of the bench and smiled; it was his broadest, teeth-baring, gotta-love-him smile that he only pulled out for the hardest of hard sells. “Tony, Tony, Tony,” he said, still smiling, “when you can be economical with the truth and creative with the interpretation of amendment rights, anything can be legal.”

                “I don’t know,” said Tony, removing a white handkerchief from his breast pocket and mopping his brow. “I mean, if this gets out-”

                “It won’t get out.”

                “But if it does, the press is going to have a field day-“

                “Tony,” said Sam firmly, “only a handful of people know about this. Try to focus on what we’re going to achieve.”

                “You already sold me on what this can mean. Something like this, maybe it would have been the difference in what happened with my brother-“

“Exactly, you’re getting a chance to help make sure that no one else has to go through what you’ve gone through.”

“It’s just…well, you know I’ve got to make sure I cover my ass on this.”

             “Your ass is bullet proof, Tony.”

              “And my name definitely isn’t going to end up on a document somewhere?”

               “There are no documents. This is all strictly need-to-know and off the books.”

                “But it’s been sanctioned by someone, right?”

                “Unofficially, yes, this has clearance all the way from the top. Officially, the powers-that-be have plausible deniability.”

                Tony fiddled absently with his wedding ring. “Look, I cloaked the apps and leeched off enough bandwidth to provide you with the data you need but there’s still a small chance that someone could discover this if they did a full audit of our systems.”

                “We’re aware of the risks; but we have contingency plans in place.”

                “I think I need to know more about them if I’m going to go through with this.”

                “Tony, the less you know the better.”

                “Look, I’m trusting you on this-“

                “I figured the fifteen million dollars we’re about to wire into off-shore accounts for you would buy us quite a bit of trust, Tony.”

                “I trust you,” said Tony, looking at Sam pleadingly. “It’s just; well, I need to know what happens if something goes wrong.”

                “There are certain fragments in the code” explained Sam, “Identifiable fragements, but entirely false fragments. They’ll implicate Chinese hackers and we’ll sweep up a suitable Chinese national, or naturalised Chinese from Zerrenium and then hold them under the Patriot Act. We can hold onto them as long as we like – problem solved…”

                “Ok,” said Tony, nodding to himself. “That would work, I guess.”

                “I’m glad you’re satisfied. Now I’m going to need you to demonstrate that this is all working before I authorise the transfer.”

                Tony looked around the empty park nervously.

                “If anyone finds I smuggled these out a week before the launch-”

                “Just show me.”

                Tony placed the briefcase on his lap, fiddled with the combination lock and then snapped it open. Inside, among various papers, was a smaller black case. He opened the small case carefully to reveal an interior that was lined with honeycombed foam and, at its centre, a small pair of lightweight glasses.  He took them out gently and passed them to Sam.

                “The Zerrenium Aug-Vision.”

                “Nice,” said Sam, turning them over in his hand. “So this is what’s got Apple and Google running scared.”

                “The technology in these is way ahead of anything either of those two are going to be able to bring to the market for at least a year.”

                Sam slid a finger across the power-on indicator and a small green light appeared on the frame. “And these are ready to go?”

                “It’s running right now.”

                Sam slipped the glasses on and watched the augmented reality overlay offer up a range of display data. If these were his own glasses then they’d be calibrating to his individual user preferences, learning what it was that he was most interested in.

“And there’s no way of a user being able to determine the data we’re gathering?”

“No way; all the processing is done on The Cloud, so there’s no kind of performance drop for the user at all.”

Sam glanced along the bench at Tony for the briefest of seconds and then removed a black cell phone from the pocket of his jeans and thumbed a number on speed dial.

                It rang twice before being picked up.

                “This is Sam Waxley. ID 54 Alpha 6 Echo. Is this line secure?”

                “We’re secure. Go.”

                “Item has been evaluated. What do you have?”

                “Full thirty eight point face recognition, matching the target. GPS data and positional data on all other units has been acquired.”

                Sam smiled honestly for the first time that day.

                “Excellent. I’ll be back soon. Waxley out.”

                He clicked the cell phone off and placed it back in his pocket before offering the glasses back to Tony.

                “The money is being wired to your accounts right now. You’ll have access to it within half an hour.”

                “And we won’t talk again?”

                “No, Tony. We won’t ever see each other again after today.”

                “It was nice doing business with you.” said Tony, getting up and offering his hand out for Sam to shake before realising how this would look to anybody who happened to be watching them. He blushed crimson. “Sorry.”

                “Just go, Tony. Go keep your head down for a while and then start enjoying your money.”

                Tony nodded, picked up his briefcase and scurried quickly away down the path towards the park exit. Sam sat back and closed his eyes, savouring the moment. Zerrenium’s latest gadget was all set to be a game changer, destined to be the must-have item for everyone wanting to keep pace with the latest technology. And, now, the NSA had a back door into everything.

                The idea had come to him when he first saw the prototype demoed; the Aug-Tech used a front facing camera and he had immediately realised that if it were somehow possible to run a background app that utilised the feed from every single pair of glasses out there, then it could a spy network of unparalleled power. Everything ever user saw could be evaluated without them even realising it.

                Terrorism was the big sell, of course. That’s how he’d hooked Washington and it was also how he’d found a sympathetic insider in the shape of Tony Denton. Of course, he didn’t tell Washington that his plans were a lot bigger than hunting down the limited number of targets on the terrorist wanted list; and he didn’t think that Tony would have been entirely pleased to learn that his brother – killed in a car bomb on a synagogue six months earlier – had actually been killed by a CIA field team working on his specific orders. Armed with a fierce desire to do something, anything, to avenge his brother’s death, Sam had found Tony to be satisfyingly pliable when it came to undermining his employer’s systems.

                In reality, the glasses would track everyone. Every single person identified would have their image compared, via an algorithm he didn’t pretend to understand, to a national database that held photos that had been scavenged everywhere from the Motor Vehicles Commission to Facebook. Once the glasses became common place, they would be able to form a map of the comings and goings of countless millions and it would ensure that the NSA knew who was meeting who and where. It wouldn’t just be terrorists; it would be activists and protestors, lawyers and charity workers; it would be anyone who might not just be entirely true blue American. They could cross-reference the data against GPS, could match up data received with real-time CCTV or drone footage, they could even track a target using multiple Aug-Tech devices. It was Big Brother come to life and it would operate in silence, in the shadows, in background collating and learning.

But Sam Waxley already dreamed of a day when the existence of the system could be made public, when people wouldn’t just accept this type of monitoring but would actually relish it. All it would take, he knew, was for something to outrage the population enough; something that would make 9/11 pale in comparison, and Americans would be ready to give up what little remaining liberties they had; which was, of course ironic, the giving up of freedom in the name of protecting freedom.

                There would be dissenters, of course, he knew that; but, by then, they’d have already identified all the likely opposition and they would have made plans to deal with them. And then Americans would feel it was their civic duty to be part of the network. Why, he even had a slogan in mind.

                “Something you witnessed today,” he whispered to the empty park, with a hint of a smile, “Can save America tomorrow."

1 comment:

redacted said...

Sam waxley wrote his full report for review today.
He knew that his superiors would be proud on him.

'The whole world visible through a simple interface', The thought was overwhelming.

With selfconfidence he walked the hallways of the bureau towards the meeting.

A colleague named jack, though it was probably not his real name, stopped him in his tracks.

'Dude, the suit is paying us a visit'

A slight panick ensued in Sam.
The man referred to as the suit owned so much of the world rumors told. He decides over peoples lives, over peoples jobs. He has been known to relentlessly sack people over the tiniest of mishaps. Over a wrong glance.
His grip tightened on the document as he hesitantly entered the board room.

None of his peers where around. A man in a suit sat very close to the door, very close to where he was standing. Hands folded, the suit patiently waited for his next move. The man they simply called the suit looked impressive. He looked confident. It was scary to behold.
He could not remember how many breaths it took him before siting across the suit, putting his full report on the table. The suit was eying him with a very calm and kind demeanor. So why he felt so thouroughly scanned and judged.

The suit began with a simple question.

'Will civilians be able to turn of the goggles?'

Sam was perplexed, why was this question asked to him.
He opened his document and flipped the pages, knowing before even flipping the first page that the information was not in his report.

'This was a test' he thought to himself. Well if the grid has to spy on every civilian on the planet then the logical anwser would be no. It should be running all the time.

With a shaky confidence the words formulated and escaped.
'No, sir'

It was retorted emediately.

'How will we be able to keep monitoring the usefull amount of time that people spend living, when the Aug-tech wastes energy and manpower during the time that people sleep?'

The suit stood up and Sam mimicked the gesture out of politeness.

'See to it that the Aug-tech has an off switch, Sam'. The suit neatly put the chair back in its position. 'I do not wish to visit you again, I am off to Afrika.'

Sam pondered a little over the words. He stood in the dooropening staring to the ground. 'not visiting me again...' Such a harsh statement, like a warning. Who is he anyway, that arrogant prick. Going on a vacation while we work our asses of.
He dared a question, 'Pleasure or business, sir'. The suit paused just a little in his exit tred and turned his head slightly. He was smiling yet looked very stern. The suit turned fully and simply pointed towards somewhere in the back. Where his office was.

Sam took the hint.

'I must let the tech department design an offswitch' He thought while walking back to his desk.

'I came off unscathed' he thought next, 'I still have my job'.