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Technology: The God of all things
Being a tinkerer, out of curiosity, I acquired two sleek fitness tracker bands from Amazon. One for my wife and one for myself! Worn like watches on the wrist, and paired by Bluetooth to your smart phone, they tell you a lot about your various physical activities and fitness parameters.

Like the number of steps you have taken since midnight, the calories spent, pulse rate, blood pressure, and even the quality of your sleep. Also, it shows the outcomes of your gym workouts and swimming! 

When I get up in the morning, a bar chart reveals to me the timings when I slept well, periods when I was awake and those when I was half awake. Mercifully, it has not yet developed the art of revealing our dreams! 

Based on your total activity for the week, using a Harvard model it gives you advice from experts and a list of Do's and Don'ts. I cannot vouch for the reliability of the data that this mini gadget produces, but it does broadly indicate your state of physical fitness or otherwise. 

Whenever I am working for too long on my desktop or lost in an engrossing book, my fitness tracker band creates a loud buzz. It is distracting enough to make you lift your eyes from the book and glance at the band dial. Lo and behold, an animation on the dial prompts me to get up and shake a leg or two! The loud buzz also wakes me up, if my afternoon siesta has been longer than desirable. This prelude has been on the lighter side of things. What happened with my wife is a matter worth noting. 

Having undergone both knee replacements, she cannot walk for too long. Nevertheless, some extent of walking is essential for everyone. She does six rounds of our building every morning. After the fitness tracker arrived, six rounds measured to 4000 steps. She decided to gradually increase the daily step count. Next day, while she was doing more steps than usual, her wristband buzzed vigorously. In bold letters it displayed 'STOP"! This indicated that she was overstressed and luckily she stopped walking further. Two days later she was hospitalised for a week due to a silent heart attack. It is difficult to conclude whether this was just a coincidence or that the postage stamp-sized gadget on the wrist had indeed assessed her physical condition rather correctly. Going by the proliferation of brands and variety of trackers available, it appears that this gadgetry is here to stay, and develop more and more capabilities. 

I had bought the device just to understand how it senses so many parameters. On the reverse side there are tiny flashing sensors which do the trick. But I could never figure out how they sense systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Also how precise periods of waking, sleeping etc. are sensed! In a clinic, observing these states of consciousness would require observing the brainwaves on the monitor of an EEG (electroencephalogram) setup! 

The point I am getting at is this: In the age of Big Data, user information from practically all personal devices is being harvested by IT companies and can be used not only for advertising and marketing, but for not so benign and sinister purposes too – as we have seen in the case of Cambridge Analytics. Subliminal messages can condition us without our knowing that we are being made to admire or hate a particular political party, a religion or any other interest group. Children are particularly vulnerable to such conditioning. 

The mere wearing of a fitness tracker is providing a lot of information about the wearer's health to 1) maker of the tracker, 2) maker of the smart phone and to 3) Google or Apple, who provide the operating systems Android and iOS to most of the mobile phones. One can expect health related advertising targeted at the wearer of such devices. 

One such matter of very serious concern was flashed by the media on 3rd August 2018 and was the subject of evening TV debates, as described below:

In the morning we saw a message on the Net, that practically all smart phones in India had been hacked and without our knowledge an erstwhile toll free number (1800-300 1947) of the Aadhaar authority, UIDAI had been added to our 'Contacts'. Unknown to me, someone adding a contact number to my phone, has frightening implications. I checked my phone and yes, it was there! Every other phone at home was similarly intruded upon. Today, a defunct number! Tomorrow it could be something else to provoke social unrest or violence. Imagine the scale of damage it can cause! Both UIDAI and the Ministry concerned denied any involvement. 

It turned out that the culprit was Google – the omnipotent and the omniscient IT giant. It had been an 'inadvertent error' on their part, they said. Imagine, just one company by press of a button can play havoc with an entire country. Google has much to answer here. Can they assure that such a thing will not happen again?

To us lay persons Google is just a 'Search' company. But it has percolated into our lives and is changing the world, along with Facebook, WhatsApp, Apple, Microsoft etc. According to author Yuval Harari, 'Facebook understands us better than how we understand ourselves. It knows precisely the way we are going to vote'. This is what is suspected to have happened in the last American elections.

Google Maps and Google Earth are gradually driving all conventional atlases and maps out of business. And they can be very intrusive. India had protested against their showing our defence installations and other vital installations. Today's Times of India carries a headline: 'How Google Maps became the default atlas'. Unwittingly or otherwise they are changing place names, boundaries and creating discontent among local populace and even between countries. An international crisis blew up in 2010, when Google Map misrepresented the boundary between Nicaragua and Costa Rica! 

Smart speakers: 

After smart phones, cordless smart speakers are gradually catching on. They work on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and they are your digital Man Friday. Purely by the spoken word, all the information available in Wikipedia and elsewhere on the internet or on your personal devices is literally yours for the asking. Amazon's Echo and Google's Home are among the many in the market. In a demonstration, I asked 'OK Google, where is Timbuktu'? Very promptly it replied 'Mali' and gave some more useful information. 

Another: 'OK Google, play for me Beatle's 'Hey Jude'. 'Do you want to hear from YouTube or from any other file?' was the response. 'From YouTube', I replied. Promptly the music was played.

I asked it to multiply two numbers and it straight away gave the correct answer. When I asked, what my grandfather's name was, it replied, 'You have not yet told me the name.' 

You can ask about today's weather forecast or the latest Sensex quotes. It will also reel off your appointments for the day. And alert you for each appointment. Homes which have smart appliances like fans, washing machines and refrigerators etc. can be switched on and off and their settings altered by spoken commands to the speaker. 

I am not sure, whether the smart speaker will just remain an object of curiosity and entertainment or morph into a digital Jack-of-all. A compact personal assistant endowed with artificial intelligence, which has come to stay! While today it seems to be just a novelty, it has its sinister implications too! 

The smart speaker is not only responding to your spoken commands, unknown to you it is transmitting all the private conversations at home or office back to the eavesdropping Google, Amazon, Apple or whoever is the supplier of the gadget.  The supplier companies have admitted that they indeed do eavesdrop and analyse the private conversations.  Our privacy is breached from many directions. Somebody is or can play the awesome Big Brother of George Orwell's book '1984'! 

The Indian government was trying to do something similar by creating the Social Media Hub. The Centre promptly withdrew its plans for the hub, after the Supreme Court chided it for trying to create a 'surveillance state'!!!

To get a glimpse of what tomorrow is going to look like, based on the actual plans of high tech companies like Google or Tesla, it is worth reading about 500 pages of 'Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow' by Yuval Noah Harari. Below are two extreme examples: 

Google Base Line study: 

By extracting from our emails and searches of various kinds, Google will be able to forecast epidemics, much before they are formally noticed by the medical fraternity or the health ministry. What the establishment will take weeks to establish, Google will in minutes! The author gives a hypothetical example: Say, Londoners use in their messages or search for words associated with flu, like 'headache', 'fever', 'nausea' and 'sneezing' on the average 100,000 times a day. The day their algorithm for London records about 300,000 or more searches in a day, Google could inform the authorities to gear up for the flu epidemic.

Google is collecting worldwide health data to arrive at an ideal health profile, against which the individual and the doctor are better informed about the course of preventive medicine and associated steps to be taken, both in the arena of personal health and public health. 

Heaven can wait. We will live longer on earth:

On the other extreme, Google and others are seriously into the business of extending life indefinitely! Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal has announced that he plans to live forever! Google has formed a company named 'Calico' with the stated mission 'to solve death'! With billions invested in Life Sciences, Bill Maris the chief of Calico stated, 'If you ask me today, is it possible to live 500 years, the answer is yes.' 

So Technology is seriously challenging God and according to author Harari, we are seeing the emergence of a 'Data Religion'! Science Fiction and reality seem to be gradually becoming interchangeable.

Our grandchildren will see a world which we can hardly imagine. Driverless autonomous vehicles and pilotless drone air-taxis are already under test in some cities. Emulating Japan, a Chennai restaurant already has four humanoid robots serving food.  (See inset)

My fervent hope is that may technology apart from making us lead a healthier life, also conditions human minds to 'Make love. Not war'! There is too much of hatred and isolationism in the world today. Religion could not sort it out. Will technology take over as the new religion? Author Harari does forecast that 'Wars will become obsolete'. Amen!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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