The American Constitution, and the equally important Bill of Rights, are two of the most important documents ever written. America was not the first country to have a Constitution, but it’s still the only country on the planet that has Freedom of Speech enshrined into law. You may balk at that, but it’s true. Any Government that has limits on the words people can say does not truly have Freedom of Speech. Canada and England are perfect examples. Back in 2016, Canada made it illegal to use the wrong pronouns (for any reason). England, meanwhile, arrests people for tweets and jokes.
However, more concerning than the actions of countries I don’t live in or care very much about are the Big Tech giants and what they get up to. And when I say “big tech”, I don’t mean fun online places like Ripper Casino. The silicon valley giants, Google, Facebook (“Meta”), and Twitter dominate the social media world and have more consolidated power than even the most power-hungry Emperors could ever dream of.
Technology is steamrolling ahead at a rapid pace, but the laws, and by extension, the rights of the individual, have not caught up. Or rather, the rights of the individual have yet to be recognized in the online world. It’s not hard to see why. Translating rights from the Constitution to the Internet doesn’t fit one-to-one. Considering that most of the geezers that run our lives barely understand any technology invented after the fax machine, it’s not unsurprising that things have gotten out of hand.
I plan to be an engineer by trade. I live and breathe tech and science, and I’m old enough to remember VCR tapes before everything became digital. The world is barreling forward into technologies that most believe are stuck in the realm of science fiction, which are, in reality, right around the corner.
And we need to be ready to handle them.
We need a Technological Bill of Rights.
This is probably the issue you’re most familiar with. You’re probably aware that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and just about every big social media company track everything you do with their products, and the profiles they build on you are then used in internal profiles so that you can be shown targeted ads. On a more nefarious, although fascinating, note, these companies build immense profiles about you, which is then used in internal R&D studies.
These studies can provide an immense pool of data and can reveal some pretty fascinating insights into general human behavior. On the other hand, the main reason these companies are even bothering to do such research is to figure out how to make people more addicted to their services. An insider at Facebook leaked some internal research that revealed that Facebook has evidence that Instagram is actively harmful to the mental health of teenage girls but pushes it onto them anyway because the features that do this cause the girls to use Instagram more.
Video game developers do similar kinds of studies. Every game with microtransactions and loot boxes uses them because… it works. People are more likely to fork over their cash when there’s a reward, and that reward becomes addicting.
So yeah, tech companies have a vested interest in studying what makes people tick. And the research these companies do is so precise that Google can know when you’re pooping based on when you use YouTube.
So the first Bill on this Hypothetical Bill of Rights would be:
The Right To Private Data: Tech Companies should only be allowed to possess the bare minimum data on users that are required to use the service that the user directly uses. This should also forbid companies from Data Extrapolation. This would be hard to enforce if a company decided to do some sneaky research, but the idea would be that companies cannot use the data that they do collect to extrapolate hidden profiles about their users. No more using retinal scans to identify personality traits.
The efficiency of your search results might suffer, but I think we all could live with that.
Here’s another new technology that’s both really cool and really dangerous. Deep Fakes have been used in Hollywood for a while now. Forest Gump used it to put Forest Gump into vintage footage with real American presidents, such as JFK. Disney has used it to bring back fan-favorite characters, such as Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leah, despite the fact that the actors for both characters are dead.
However, like all technologies, this too has gotten more and more advanced over time. What used to require millions of dollars and massive special effects teams can get 90% of the way there with some software and webcam. While they’re a bit janky now, in a couple years down the line, I predict that these Deep Fakes (voice included!) will be almost impossible to detect by just watching them. Therefore, I think people should have:
The Right to One’s Face and Features: You have full rights to your own face, voice, name, and other biological features. No one has the right to impersonate you, to falsify videos in which you say something that you did not.
Yeah, this one would be hard to enforce. And it would make the lives of meme lords that much harder. However, in an age where video evidence is one of the only reliable sources of true evidence of some events (and they’re skeptical enough as-is), it’s scary what could be done if politicians start releasing fake videos about what their opposition, or even supporters of their opposition, are doing. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you.
The Right to Repair
This one actually is already being implemented across the globe. The European Union, in a surprising act of good intentions, has actually already implemented this. The gist is that all the technology you own belongs to you, and you have the right to take it apart and tinker around inside of it as you see fit. Companies like Apple have been making it increasingly harder to get inside of their products because if your iPhone breaks, they don’t want you to fix it; they want you to buy a new one.
On top of that, Apple builds in “forced obsolescence”, where even if the hardware itself is completely fine, the tech will automatically start slowing down over time until it becomes unusable.
And, Apple, again, is doing its darndest to make every single part proprietary. No standard USB Type C cables. You need Apple’s special cable. Headphone jacks, monitor stands, extension cords- Apple wants you to use theirs.
The Right to Repair won’t necessarily solve all of that, but it’s absolutely an important, major step in the right direction.
The Right of Master of AI and Smart Tech
Everything up until this point has mostly been grounded in technologies that exist and are on the market right now. From here, I’m going to be delving into some things that may seem like science fiction, but I honestly believe that they’re coming.
The first is self-driving cars. You probably are aware that these exist. Companies like Tesla and Google already have various prototypes on the road, running tests to improve their capabilities.
This is a technology that, personally, I’m super excited about. And not just because I can’t legally drive on my own… Car accidents are one of the most common causes of death in the west. Texting and driving, DUIs, road rage, whatever the reason may be, millions suffer every year. Self-driving cars could eliminate it entirely. In theory, they can react faster than humans, they can communicate intent with nearby vehicles automatically, and they won’t behave unpredictably.
In theory. The companies are still working on the AI bit, but the part that I’m concerned with is how much control the companies themselves will retain over these vehicles once they hand over the keys to you. Yeah, I may sound paranoid when I worry about this kind of thing, but I think that the last thing anybody wants is your car not going where you want it to go because the company is mad at you.
That may sound ridiculous right now, but I don’t think it’s all that far-fetched. Did you know that if you get banned from Facebook, you can’t use your Oculus Rift? That was a ludicrous idea several years ago, but here we are. If we’re not careful, you might not be able to drive to McDonald’s because Google decided it’s bad for you. This is why you need:
The Right of Mastership of One’s Technology: If you bought it, it’s yours. Your tech should obey you, regardless of what the company that made it decides afterward.
And here’s where I dive off the deep end into full-blown sci-fi. Brain chips. They’re real. Neuralink has a working one, which they demonstrated recently in a video that showed a monkey playing video games with its mind. These chips can be streamed to phones, in their words, “just as you’d pair your phone to a Bluetooth speaker”. While they’re still a long way off from being able to read your direct thoughts, this is still incredible technology.
Neuralink intends to use this tech to help the paralyzed be able to walk again. That’s good, without a doubt. However, I highly doubt such revolutionary technology is going to stay in the medical field. Elon Musk himself has talked about the need for humans to merge with machines so that we don’t become “obsolete” when the AI Singularity finally happens.
The Right to Your Mind and Thoughts: I gonna have a bit of a hard time defining this one. On the one hand, I want to say that you have the sole right to your brainwaves. And I still agree with that sentiment. However, I don’t want to outright ban the technology altogether. There is immense potential here for both mankind and the disabled. However, with such unknown technology, we must be incredibly careful.
Futurama may have joked about the idea of companies putting advertisements into people’s dreams- and yeah, that’s still far-fetched… but perhaps not as much as you may realize. And if you think they could, you’d bet your bottom they would.