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"Data is Reality"

From: Steven Adler <adler1@us.ibm.com>
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2014 10:03:16 -0400
To: IBM Open Data Group <IBM_Open_Data_Group%IBMUS@us.ibm.com>, "DWBP Public List" <public-dwbp-wg@w3.org>
Message-ID: <OF10A35643.998F50F8-ON85257CBA.004D09A3-85257CBA.004D346F@us.ibm.com>

Data Is Reality
Only through open data standards can societies safeguard their pasts and 

By Steve Adler | Published April 11, 2014
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Close your eyes, and imagine that everything I discussed in my last 
article, “The Internet of Trees,” has already happened. Engage in a 
temporary suspension of disbelief. The world around us is now fully 
described in open data with URIs, or data links, identifying many of the 
objects in our communities. Streets and trees, fire hydrants and stop 
signs, crosswalk lines, and even crossing guards all have URIs. In maps 
and through open data portals we can explore data about when streets were 
built, who last repaved them, and how many layers of pavement exist 
beneath our feet. The data can also reveal why the road is graded and by 
what degree, for whom it is named and who named it, when it was given a 
route number, and so on.
The life and history of our trees are marked with open data too, telling 
us who planted them, how fast they grow, and when branches were cut for 
power line clearance. Open data even offers a window into who loved to 
climb the trees as a child and when people sought shelter under the leaves 
while waiting for trolleys, buses, and pickups. We will also learn about 
manhole covers, the reasons stop signs were put at certain corners, and 
when crosswalk lines were first painted white, then yellow, and then 
replaced with decals that look like bricks. And we can discover why 
crossing guards were needed to slow traffic for schoolchildren to cross 
during rush hour.
Open data and URIs will also describe churches, schools, bakeries, coffee 
shops, restaurants, and department stores. People will record their 
experiences and reviews, the people they met, the conversations they 
shared, and the ideas they learned. And some day, in the not-too-distant 
future, all these details will be available to us through augmented 
reality heads-up displays (HUDs) that transform our vehicle windscreens 
into a contextual information guide. We will drive through our communities 
and choose alternative views to provide us with insightful information 
about what we see around us.
In addition, several video cameras embedded in the exteriors of vehicles 
and a sophisticated, onboard IBM Watson™ computer will use high-speed 5G 
networks to constantly compare objects surrounding the car with contextual 
information. Every window will offer a view that is augmented with pop-up 
information about each observed object. Side windows will have touch 
displays allowing passengers to select objects for investigation, or maybe 
voice commands will empower Watson to discover new relationships and 
Bird lovers will be able to use a bird filter to identify each bird that 
flies near the car. Foodies will search for restaurants nearby that serve 
gluten-free cuisine and have excellent reviews. History buffs will see 
overlays of historical buildings, envisioning what it would have been like 
to drive around Rome in AD 79, for example. And shoppers will be able to 
discover which stores have sales and which items on sale in their sizes 
are in the stores as they drive past them.
Back to the future
The world I am describing is not more than five years off. It will be made 
possible by a combination of open data created and published by cities and 
citizens and advanced display technologies using video cameras and Watson 
to read visual information and compare it with URI tags. Sophisticated 
interfaces comprising touch screens, voice commands, HUDs, and hopefully 
automated driving will be the norm. All these technologies exist today and 
can be brought together in new generations of vehicles that transform 
driving experiences into learning labs where data defines the reality we 
Only one thing stands in our way: the National Security Agency (NSA).
When data defines reality, the organizations that control the most data 
define our lives. In disclosures by Edward Snowden, we have all learned 
that the NSA has created a worldwide web of universal surveillance. They 
can read our emails, Facebook posts, phone call records, blog posts, 
photos, videos, web chats, and Skype calls. And that scares many people 
who feel that their privacy is being violated.
But while spies can violate our privacy, real harm can occur only when the 
information gathered through spying is used to violate the rights of 
private individuals. And an organization that has the resources and means 
to universally collect information about what people do also has the 
resources and means to universally change the information about people and 
things in ways that can ruin and end lives.
Herd technology
In a recent blog post, I wrote about an experience I had driving on the 
Long Island Expressway. My car’s navigation system warned of upcoming 
traffic and urged me to get off at Exit 34. But I was in the far left 
lane, there was a long line of cars at the exit ramp, and so I missed it. 
At Exit 33, I got the same warning. Again I was in the left lane moving 
quickly, and the queue was too long to maneuver my car into the line. By 
the time I came upon exit 32, traffic had slowed in all lanes, and there 
were two lanes of cars waiting to exit.
I slowed down and looked into the drivers’ windows and noticed that all 
the cars lined up to exit also had navigation systems. Could it be, I 
wondered, that all the navigation systems had recorded the same traffic 
conditions and were urging their drivers to exit the expressway and divert 
traffic to another route, which would then become clogged with too many 
cars? I decided to test my hypothesis and ignore my onboard navigation 
system. Sure enough, after passing the exit there was no congestion ahead.
Now imagine how a person’s behavior might be affected if someone else is 
able to alter traffic information, change object tags, and route that 
person to a destination he or she had no intention of visiting. Imagine 
how dependent people might become on augmented reality information and 
what they might be influenced to believe and do if that information were 
changed to provide disinformation. How can a government be trusted to 
safeguard its citizens when its spying operations can know everything its 
citizens are doing and writing and thinking, and also have the power to 
change the data that describes those citizens?
Out in the open
Having a third party such as the NSA isn’t intrinsically dangerous because 
that party knows what we are doing. What is dangerous is the possibility 
that that party—be it in the public or private sector—can change the data 
that describes who we are, what we’ve done, and influence what we may 
choose to do in the future. That’s why we need open data standards that 
provide the authoritative basis for ascertaining where data came from, who 
touched it, how it was calculated, and who has certified its authenticity.
Without the widespread use of open data standards that provide proof of 
data we can trust, our reality can be augmented with lies that lead to 
dangerous outcomes, reduced freedom, and pervasive paranoia. We must 
safeguard the future and the past with data we can trust and standards 
that demonstrate that trust beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Please share any thoughts or questions in the comments.

Best Regards,


Motto: "Do First, Think, Do it Again"

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Received on Monday, 14 April 2014 14:03:54 UTC

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