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Arts & Culture

How your data will fuel the coming digital/biological convergence

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While the advantages of adopting these technologies are many and various, the coin of this new realm is access to your personal information. If you don't have a problem with sharing your first memory or last bowel movement with the world, the Age of Networked Intelligence will be a smooth one. All of us, connected more completely and deeply than ever before in history, both to each other and to our machines.

"Just because it's not in my body," Kurzweil said of his mobile devices, "most of the action will still be in the cloud. ... It's not gonna be humans on the left, computers on the right." The boundaries will blur.

Of course, all of this depends on our willingness to give up access to a lot of our data, which can be useful for shaping our consumer experiences. It's also a slippery slope. Consider your feelings on Austin-based startup SceneTap, which, according to its pitch, "utilizes anonymous facial detection technology and video-based software to effectively track consumer analytics in a venue," meaning age, gender, and crowd density. As long as this information isn't turned against us, we're good. We've had the fine fortune not to live in a country where monitoring = repression. Our new powers of communication require us to be responsible and aware in our integration. We're either interactive citizens or data useful only to somebody else.

Which reminds me of the Decentralized Dance Party.

Swarming up and down Austin's 6th Street on a Saturday night, a crowd of brightly dressed revelers danced to pop hits from a variety of eras. Walking into it, I couldn't tell where the music was coming from. So as not to look like a fool to the guy in neon blue hotpants, I pretended to be from Finland. "Eye yam not foorum yewer coontry!" I discovered the dance party was the brainchild of Tom and Gary, two Canadian guys staging emergent properties in cities all over. One wears an FM transmitter and broadcasts music from an iPod to the dozens of boomboxes being passed around that are tuned to the same station. Thus, the music came from everywhere, and the crowd, dancing, glided up and down the street, settling at one point under the highway bridge. Traffic was stalled by the crowd, and eventually the police cars came in.

It was as close to an Arab Spring, that revolution without a leader, as any of us may ever get. Elsewhere, this was the point at which the police would start shooting and our phones would start broadcasting pictures of bodies in the streets. Instead, the murmuration simply carried itself back down the street and, for reasons known only to itself, eventually turned back into a number of individuals. •

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