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Get ready for the age of sensor panic

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Let’s zoom out and look at the big picture. We’re on the brink of an explosion in the number of cameras, microphones and other sensors in the world. Nobody knows how many, but let’s just assume that the number of sensors capable of monitoring us will increase by an order of magnitude every ten years from now on. I think that’s conservative, but you get the idea.

The examples given in this piece are low-tech compared to what is coming. We will see battery-less, ultra-ultra-low power HD video cameras and microphones, that are flat (almost paper-thin; maybe cardboard-thin), small, and light.

We'll also see various kinds of medical sensors, that can monitor heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, EEG, blood sugar, and a few more vital stats, from a tiny device that can be put on smartwatches, or as a tattoo-like device on the skin. Maybe to record some of these the device will need to be injected, where it will stay lodged underneath the skin. It will either derive the energy it needs from the body, or from body movement, or from light, sound, or some other external source (e.g. radio waves).

BCIs are another category of sensors. In the near-term they will have a baseball cap form-factor. In the future (10+ years out), you might get your BCI by swallowing a pill, that contains little particles that get absorbed by the body, and find their way into the brain, where they eavesdrop on neural activity, and transmit an ultra-low power radio signal to an external scanner. Maybe they'll transmit the signal with light outside the visible spectrum, instead.

The amount of data generated by all these sensors will be phenomenal. Storage and retrieval will pose challenges. Looking 20+ years out, a large percent of the population will be streaming maybe 1 megabyte of data per second, and that doesn't count data not coming from people. At 1 megabyte per second, a year's worth of data from 1 billion people for a year would be about

3.15 × 10^22 bytes.

That's in spitting distance of Avagadro's Number

6.022 × 10^23.


Maybe each individual could store their own "life log" in some kind of molecular storage device, with a memory capacity measured in petabytes.  They would also keep a few backup copies at various places.  This data could eventually be used to "resurrect" them, if they die; or replace old memories, in case of brain damage -- but that's several decades away.

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