The Coming Privacy Singularity

Subtitle: How I learned to stop worrying and love the 3-D web

The internet is acting as a strong solvent, mindlessly penetrating along the weak seams of our private urban spaces, breaking off chunks of the real space in which we live, exposing those chunks and dissolving any corresponding visibility boundaries in our society. With those boundaries so also dissolves privacy. Eventually, the remaining fragmentary volumes of one's personal space and time data that are not yet public will be such small fragments as to no longer be worth fighting for. When apathy about spacial and temporal personal data firmly set into mindset of a clear majority of the populace, then such an event will be an irreversible "privacy singularity" (PS). Such an event might happen well before the predicted technological singularity. Currently notable people and celebrities are rarely surprised when they meet strangers that know a great deal about them. This experience might become more commonplace for less-notable people, and, eventually, almost everyone.

The primary parameter of spatial privacy is distance: how big a cubic volume can I as a person have in which I can expect to keep obscure and not observed and/or depicted on the Internet? Can my bedroom and bed be depicted based on observations (or good-guess mock-ups)? Does the Internet know about specific hairs in my left nostril? Time also matters: can my daily schedule be determined? Another very important effect of a good AR/VR is to zoom in and zoom out and look out into space. Try NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. In your zooming, as you pass through the distance regime that we exist in, you should be able to zoom into a person. Look at this zoom into houses. (Concentrate on the first 30 seconds because after that, it turns into a condom/AIDS PSA. Music is "Baby Baby" by The Vibrators). What you want is to smoothly transition from Google Earth's satellite views to this house-zoom view and then have models of each house to some reasonable (but ever-increasing) level of accuracy and detail.

Table of Contents


In the late 2000's, computing sees the emergence of several new developments including:

  • the Geoweb, perhaps best exemplified by GoogleEarth and WikiMapia
  • the 3D Web, best exemplified by Second Life

It only takes a small amount of innovation to further organize such information and make the ensemble of data more compelling. Another possible benefit of Web 2.0 is a greater sense of both a local and global community. Personally, I lived in the same house in a decent residential neighborhood of Palo Alto (3400 block of Waverley St.) for five years and never got to know anybody on the block, even the families in the houses next door on either side. I would rather have known something about my neighbors' lives, their work, what web sites they might have. Ten years ago, there was no easy way to figure that out. There was a web site called used to sort the phone book by home address, but it has since changed. With sites like WikiMapia, it is becoming easier to browse neighborhoods and get to, in a sense, know your neighbors. It would also be nice to be able to browse local businesses on a map to save an gasoline and whatnot. These new trends present the opportunity to converge them into an intense mash-up project that could present an intuitive environment that will allow urban America and the World to explore high-resolution replicas of American urban spaces via their computers in a safe manner and with an experience that is rich and compelling. The environment will continue to converge to match the real world in which we are actually immersed and to track our world with ever-greater levels of spacial and temporal fidelity. In effect, many of the traditional notions of the frontiers of privacy would dissolve and significantly recede from their currently established boundaries.

These new methods of organizing data often miss the opportunity to integrate with more traditional sources of intelligence such as

  • The telephone directories, supplemented by full indexing in the style of the Haines Criss+Cross Directory
  • Global real estate information such as that provided by Zillow and in-house virtual tours such as that provided by TourFactory

An example of the penetration of buildings is Ohio University Without Borders. Start with their older virtual tour based on still images then click on central green (with all of the sidewalks criss-crossing). Click on buildings numbered #9 Chubb Hall #1 Cutler Hall #8 Memorial Auditorium and see what they look like. Instead of loading new software onto you computer, you can just look at this video of what a reality-based VR is like, skipping over the first 30 seconds of introduction. The view pans past these three buildings in VR. You can download the Second Life client, register and then visit this page and click on the "teleport now" button and it will launch the SL client and take you into the model via the URL secondlife://Ohio%20University/20/36/24 . The model is a just the central buildings of the campus, depicted as being on an island for GPU efficiency. You can enter the buildings and the interiors are done fairly well, with partial interior floors, windows, etc. The staircases are rendered as ramps and the interiors might be simplified fakes so that these avatars/sims can walk/fly around more easily, but you can still see that a lot of work went into these models. Again, it seems like it is only the central half-dozen buildings or so but it sets a serious example of VR/AR. Those residences will become more "anatomically correct", as information about wires, pipes, ducts and utility hookups is added. OU also has a webcam, in the northwest corner of the central green, looking north. When is Stanford going to get into this and model up the Quad and rest of the academic buildings? Compare the USF St. Petersburg 2-D Tour with the 3-D tour viewable in Google Earth. Perhaps COLLADA will allow models to be imported into Second Life. In some later version, maybe FPS flame throwers will follow.

Technically, the USA in 2008 is in a state of war, but the individual can still contribute to creating a TS in the USA. I spent some time at a donut shop in 2006, thinking about these issues. The shop had three inspiring features:

  • The shop never closes: it is open 24/7
  • The shop has WiFi service
  • Stanford students pack the shop most evenings working hard on their coursework

I created a hollow 3d model that you can see in Google Earth and I added an entry for Happy Donuts in WikiMapia. You can see on the WikiMapia page that I added a lot of URL's for the equipment in the shop. That is the data basis of a reality-based AR/VR: where you can look around a real room, see what is in it and then get information about the objects you select. In a high-detail AR/VR, you should be able to drill down to the manufactured objects and see not only product data sheets and manufacturer's web sites, but how the objects are manufactured. You should be able to identify some or all of the people around you. A much deeper mash-up is possible for Silicon Valley and later the World. The City of San Jose Planning Divisions has already started to supply models of public buildlings in Google SketchUp, so it seems that Palo Alto and Mountain View view should not be far behind. First the public spaces, then everything, including the residential areas. Ideally, it would include a lot of people. In a static configuration, it might include some representation of people in their beds (because that is where they stay put and do not move around very much). One could then add real people as they move around. It would include real cars and real license plate numbers. It might include the many thousands of licensees at arranged by geographic location. It might include the information from the local municipal urban planning databases. It might include WiFi hotspots. It might include photos taken at street level and from a low-flying airplane (click on bird's-eye view) and videos and take tours of nearby houses. Ideally, you would build up a terrain based on reality and, among other things, make a game of it, such as Singles/Sims or an FPS or whatever. You might argue that this is all just a new form of gossip and you would be right.

Another way of approaching this agnostic mental state is to view the film Koyaanisqatsi. Here are a few clips with the original minimalist music by Philip Glass:

trailer - Narrator at end: Until now, you've never really seen the world we live in
part1 part2 other part
Vessels Pruit Igoe Cloudscape Ending (rocket failure)

ko-yan-nis-qatsi (from the Hopi language), n.
1. crazy life
2. life in turmoil
3. life out of balance
4. life disintegrating
5. a state of life that calls for another way of living

Francis Ford Coppola shows time-lapse footage of natural and artificial landscapes at different levels of perspective and zoom. The speeding-up and slowing down shows repeated patterns of movement of people and nature that you might not recognize in real time. It might prompt you to think about where our society is headed in the 10-to-20 year time frame. It might help you to make wiser choices about what to do with those years ahead of you and for the lives of your offspring and future generations in a more serious fashion. Face the reality and the real world in which we exist. Do you see the patterns presented? Do you recognize them from other domains of study? The way that the people move through these spaces and the minimalist music helps you to see the patterns and being to think about better ways to organize those movements. Compare the highway scenes to those in the Solaris film (the last 30 seconds of that clip). Note the work of the Long Now Foundation.

The state of mind your should enter is that of a Martian: forget your social conditioning and just observe what people are doing en masse and whether it makes sense in the long run. You have to pull back and look at the big, long-term picture. Our American society is now the verge of being able to provide with better information about the World immediately around us. This new opportunity is not just so that we can become better-informed consumers but so that we become more aware of and supportive of each other. Now consider again that the Internet is a mindless, penetrating solvent inexorably dissolving privacy on a global scale.


As more and more complete models of Universities are created, more pseudo-real-time dynamics will be added. Faculty will appear in their offices and follow their schedules. Students will their personal data and their schedules to the model. Both will move out into the surrounding communities, especially to businesses starting with places that traditionally provide WiFi services. Soon after that, all businesses will be added models, complete with floor plans, of residential homes will appear. Cars with real license plate numbers and furniture will appear. Private citizens added to the model will initially be show in their canonical configuration: prone and in bed, with additional information to depict them "awake" or "at work". More dynamics will be added for greater fidelity in convey what is happening in the real world. People will voluntarily equip their cars with GPS devices and later start to wear them on their persons. Soon enough, the loss of privacy will be justified by those rescued after becoming lost or injured/unconscious and their GPS data leads to rescues.

Some personal information is already available via:

  • Maps from municipal and other sources and other urban planning data
  • online self-organizing open intelligence aggregators such as Wikipedia (+200K persons, geo coords for many places) and NNDB (+25K persons) with much supplemental data
  • the increase in the open sharing of personal data, especially personal space data and schedules, via Web 2.0
  • Large public sources of local intelligence such as that available via the State Department of Consumer Affairs which lists the business address of every professional license holder and services such as Intelius

If we have a full-up reality-based virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) which looked like the real world around us, we could think of lots of games and PSAs and other educational, useful and fun applications without putting vulnerable people at excessive risk. See also PS and Social Psychology See also Public service announcements (PSA) to show how the web can open the door to better-informed civics and legal advice. As Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy adviced the World in 1999: Sun on Privacy: Get Over It. It seems that more and more young people find the idea of worrying about their online privacy about their living space to be so old-school, especially if divesting themselves of privacy and anonymity enables them to help each other. IRL, you can find other schedules to enable yourself to watch objects fly in the sky, such as the International Space Station (or watch this shakey video) and [ nearby airplanes (SAN=San Diego. For some reason they took down the SJO and SFO pages). One could re-examine a real community and the real problems via the concepts embodied in games like SimCity. If parts of our world were still mysterious, one, as an adult, might as the same question that children ask: What Do People Do All Day?. The Internet is the prefect medium for answering in an adult fashion these questions using local, detailed data. Such as VR would allow us to see the pipes under our local sidewalks and peer into an architectural mockup of buildings and the many ares in our living spaces that the general public is normally not allowed. You can see how children want such areas revealed to them and how adults do too. People do want to track each other just like they already do on .

To appreciate how the morale of privacy advocates can be shattered in a non-linear fashion, one might examine the design goals and success of Sherman's March to the Sea. The goals of the March were not to actually destroy the physical plant and decimate the population of the South, but instead to destroy specific targets of long-term psychological importance such as cities and cultural treasures, especially antiquities, so as to break the will of the Southern people to continue resistance to the invasion. At the tactical level, just as some web sites now endure distributed denial-of-service attacks from the Internet, less notable people might soon experience distributed denial-of-privacy, such as is already demonstrated by the Wikipedia document collaboration project's biographies of living people. Just as an water/oil emulsion might go through a phase inversion if enriched with the lesser component, the bulk of our society may experience a inversion from its current basis of obscurity, privacy, mystery, tunnel vision and religion to one of data, fact and evidence where, in effect, almost every person is addressable by every other person much as academia is within the halls of higher learning. The faculty of Universities already display a high degree of professional transparency. Regulated professionals also must maintain transparency for the sake of the consumer's heath and safety. The near-future might realize Brin's 1998 vision of The Transparent Society (TS) for even larger segments of society. Brin gives examples in his book that are very similar to the 2007 Jared Massey scenario. If such an inversion were to occur, then the new privacy boundaries will abandon personal space as a demarcation point and will be set merely against strictly abstract security constructs such as security codes, bank ATM PIN's, confidential information handled by licensed professionals such as financial data, and the a limited number of physical security mechanisms such as the tumblers of locks and the shape of their corresponding keys. Secure records and communications will still be possible. Much else that is real in space and time (including each person's genotype and body images) will potentially be known by all other living persons. After that, other factual data such as the kind enumerated on NNDB fills out some basic facts. One might also then include a narrative biography of information based on sources of various levels of reliability. On top of this thick substrate of reality, one might then want to create a transient layer of fantasy either for private or public consumption.

This would include representations of ourselves within this elaborate mash-up, complete with representation of our anatomically correct bodies, with removable clothes added back on. It should be presented so that the viewer can relate to his or her own body and see the interior structures and recognize the benefits of such a view. Look at these pioneers in maintaining little privacy for themselves in selected facets of their life:

These people took risks but their lives remain intact. There are others who were more risky in their memorable visions but had mixed results:

These more daring people tried to communicate their message and are remembered for it. These people were pioneers in exploring the psychology of TS.

It is already permissible to show the private areas of people as long as the setting appears to be clinical, educational or about health and fitness. See the YouTube users thefamilygp (and Dr. Steele's website) , ehlolz, BREASTHEALTH, KOZEL555, medflix . See also Learning From YouTube.

Look at this one-hour high-tech hysterectomy performed live on the internet on September 20, 2006 . This is just one of about 600K such procedures performed that year. The patient, in her mid-40's opts to preserve her ovarian function thus the ovaries are left in, avoiding any need for hormone replacement therapy. She is childless and suffering from metro-menorrhagia. She has small amounts of endometriosis. In the case, patient chose to remain anonymous. The robot "docking" onto the patient is not shown. Note also how young the surgeon is and that the robotic system he is using does not provide haptic feedback. The two tools you see are the monopolar scissor on the left and a PK dissecting foceps on the right. The surgeon has to avoid damaging the ureters leading to the bladder. The detached uterus is pulled out whole through the introitus and vagina without requiring morselating and the vaginal cuff is sutured closed. The high-tech aspects allow the surgery to be minimally invasive and the patient goes home 24 hours later. Note how that tone and even some of the vocabulary is that you would expect to see on NASA TV. See Surgical Advances in Axillary and Sentinel Lymph Node Dissections, which is about the state of the art in minimally invasive breast cancer surgery. Note that they are now using BlueTooth connectivity technology in instruments used on the patient on the table the operating room. There are also some circumcision videos referenced over on the Learning From YouTube page.

Note how the ending of the film Solaris has a final scene with a "island" rendering (skip ahead to the last two minutes) similar to the OU campus is rendered in Second Life. The premise of the film is that an advanced extraterrestrial life is reclusive or highly distributed and communicates with humans by determining what a human wants and then providing sensory inputs such that the human experiences what they want, somewhat akin to the "feelies" mentioned in Brave New World. One will still be able to find privacy in the wilderness of 1984 of our coming future-world.


It seems that a privacy "domino effect" will happen in the next few years and result will be more data for everyone. In 2007, progress was made in showing "everything" about the world we live in (every useful object and every person). YouTube in the form of a lightly-censored "Internet TV" allows any person to broadcast novel new content that might not be permitted on commercial or public TV. Surgery live on the Internet is already yesterday's news. The next obvious step in maps like Google Earth and WikiMapia is to provide information about the insides of buildings including private homes and include people. Over a period of a few years, people will become inured to fake floor-plans of their homes and fantasy-based depiction of themselves as vague Barbie-doll naked images on the Internet to which Baried-doll clothes have been added back on. You can already choose an appearance of nude for your avatar in Second Life or games such as Singles: Flirt Up Your Life. If people just cannot stand their supposed hair and skin on display, their andoird can just re-skin with a depiction of their underlying fascia and muscle. Just as some accomplished and meritorious people get tired of an incorrect Wikipedia biography about themselves, more Americans will get so tired of the false data being presented as their floor-plans and body images that they will simply provide the true data and then go back to their regular lives. They will recognize that it does not put them in danger nor is it degrading or objectifying. The only other choice is to deny reality and put Galileo back under house arrest for the remainder of his days or some other dumb tactic to delay the inevitable. The moons of Jupiter are clearly visible. Any one human being is not the center of the Universe, neither are they the purpose of the Universe, nor is our species, nor is our Earth, nor our star.

What is required in 2008 is vision and bold leadership. A different approach would be to simply plan for 300 million people and include their interesting objects and surroundings. It will be difficult for any one American to claim that they were singled out or suffered significant emotional distress because of a computer image. Carly Fiorina liked HP Cool Town. In reference to her in her book, "Tough Choices", in Chapter 20 "A Thousand Tribes" in the section about HP Labs:

On one of my first visits I was shown something called Cool Town. It was truly impressive. Cool Town later became the centerpiece of my very first public speech about HP and my vision for the company… Carly Fiorina, ''Tough Choices'', 2006

"In Cool Town, everything is connected. It is a model for how appliances, plus e-services, plus infrastructure will deliver what people want. Cool Town is about reinventing the Net to work for people." Carly Fiorina, November 15, 1999, 1999 COMDEX speech

As Brad Patrick says:

"The deeper the penetration of the technology, the deeper the penetration of the content, the more we have the ability to improve everyone’s lives." Brad Patrick, January 31, 2006, talk at the Berkman Center

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