Moore's law and the exponential growth in surveillance systems

Moore's law and the exponential growth in surveillance systems

Summary: Big Brother gets all the same benefits from cheaper, more powerful computer systems that big business gets.

TOPICS: Big Data, Security

We will have Big Brother because we can have Big Brother, because the technologies are cheap and readily available. And they are doubling in power every two years.

The relentless improvements in computer chip capabilities every 18 to 24 months, as described by Moore's law, have created a warp-speed acceleration in the capabilities of all of our digital technologies. It's made possible cheap iPhones, tablets, servers, and a host of desirable digital electronics. Gizmos and gadgets get ever better and ever cheaper because they can.

Our entire modern society, its incredible advances, its innovation, is directly driven by the engine of Moore's law. Every digital thing gets better and less expensive, automatically.

We get cheaper smartphones, and governments get cheaper surveillance systems. Both are improving at the same exponential rate.

But what about storage? More powerful computing means more data is processed, and lots more data is generated, which means more storage is needed.

The good news is that data storage technologies are improving even faster than Moore's law. Doubling about every year or so, and falling in price.

Relentless progress

The beauty of the Moore's law conveyor belt is that the double-power chips it delivers make all the apps more powerful automatically. Software gets a free ride, there's no need to invent new programming languages, there's even no reason to write tight code because the lazy code gets better, faster, too.

Businesses have been snooping on consumers for decades, and benefiting greatly from Moore's law. Multitudes of companies collect and sell personal data because knowing the timing of a consumer's intent to buy is an el dorado for merchants; it means they can save on their costs of sales, and they can sell more at a lower price.

Business snooping versus government snoops

We often forget that government systems are riding the same exponential graph as business systems, and they benefit from the same doubling in performance and lower costs.

Google reads peoples' Gmail, but when government agencies read peoples' email, there's an outcry. Same data, same activity, one is acceptable while the other is not. Why?

Snooping by big business has a mundane objective: To sell you more stuff. Big Brother snooping is about judging you. And there's the rub.

With Moore's law, Big Brother is getting better and better at judging you, your character, your ideas, your connections, your trustworthiness (especially with Manning and Snowden). Everything about what makes you human can be measured, quantified, and judged.

Jam tomorrow

There's another difference: Big business isn't much interested in what you did, said, or wrote a year ago, two years, 10 years ago; it throws away much of that data. Big Brother keeps it all. What it can't use today, because the files are strongly encrypted or distributed across many databases, it knows it can use tomorrow.

Tomorrow's computer systems will be able to decrypt those files, tomorrow's computer systems will be able to analyze and cross-link data in a myriad of databases, they'll be able to know more about you in ways that are impractical today.

Historical data grows in usefulness to Big Brother, because it makes possible a more accurate digital simulacrum of you. With every doubling in computer performance, the simulation of you grows closer and closer to the real you. The computer models get better at predicting what you will or won't do. Big Brother gets better at predicting intent.

The horror of George Orwell's 1984 was the government's ability to uncover and punish "thoughtcrimes". Tomorrow's Big Brother will have the means to predict thoughtcrimes before they become actual crimes. They are designed to discover intent.

To be judged on the privacy of your thoughts is bad enough. To be judged on your future thoughts and the crimes that they will likely lead to is far worse.

And that's the difference between Google and the NSA: Big business is purely interested in your wallet. Big Brother is interested in the purity of your soul.

Welcome to this unstoppable future, brought to you courtesy of Moore's law.

Topics: Big Data, Security

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  • Disagree with much being said.

    "there's even no reason to write tight code because the lazy code gets better, faster, too."

    Except there's still slow apps out there. This is a bit of a dream - bad code is bad code, period. Anybody with a computer science degree knows that no amount of power doubling can "fix," say a bubble sort, simply because the bubble sort gets slower faster than Moore's law as our data sets get larger. You'll still need a good algorithm.

    "Google reads peoples' Gmail but when government agencies read peoples' email, there's an outcry. Same data, same activity, one is acceptable while the other is not, why?"

    I disagree with the assertion that one activity is "acceptable." Neither is acceptable.

    "Tomorrow's computer systems will be able to decrypt those files"


    The growth of the search space does not merely double when you double the key size. *EACH BIT* doubles the search space. When you go from 128 to 256, you are doubling the search space 128 times. When you go from 256 to 512, you are doubling the search space 256 times.

    We're actually already talking about key sizes that may outlast the heat death of the universe. Cracking modern encryption is no longer about brute force anymore - it's about finding weaknesses in the algorithms. The strongest algorithms with the longest key sizes are already well beyond the "Moore's law will crack it someday" point.

    "Tomorrow's Big Brother will have the means to predict thoughtcrimes before they become actual crimes."

    I have my doubts. As much as we'd like to think that we can predict everything with enough raw power - that is far from being a proven fact. If they try to do any sort of "thoughtcrime" stuff, I'm sure there's no avoiding false positives.

    "Welcome to this unstoppable future brought to you courtesy of Moore's Law."

    I disagree with the "unstoppable" philosophy that technologists like to use from time to time. Technological progress is not IMO an inevitable fact. A nuclear war or asteroid strike could easily plummet us back into the dark ages. A bad president probably could bring progress to a halt with poor leadership. Dictatorships tend not to bring much technological progress. Personally, I consider our technological progress to be fragile, rather than an unstoppable future.
    • Well...

      Who uses those "unbreakable" keys? Certainly not Average Joe "256 what?". Average Joe doesn't know how to encrypt anything ands not interested in encrypting anything. And who would care anyway? The government isn't interested in profiling Average Joe, even if it could handle sifting through the exponentially growing mountain of digital garbage. That leaves "Geeks", that the government is not interested in anyway, and people with "things to hide". Aha!! Those are just the people who need to be watched out for. Those sending multiple encrypted files across national borders, they are going to get some "extra attention" by the software.

      I believe progress is unstoppable, short of the human race being wiped out the knowledge that has beed gained is never completely lost. Progress may be "paused" for a while, but it will not backtrack. Some countries may regress, others will be moving forward. It'll be remembered, it'll be saved somewhere, maybe bits and pieces. It'll be reconstructed.
      • Everybody who has used an SSL connection.

        "Who uses those 'unbreakable' keys?"

        Everybody who has used an SSL connection. This is somewhat dependent on the implementation at the web site, but there are good encryption algorithms available. It's not as if we really expect users to manually type in long keys - there are better ways of handling that.

        Although it should be noted that I'm only referring to a brute force attack - poor implementations and perhaps discovery of weaknesses in the algorithms are still theoretically possible - although cracking those are more about creativity than raw computational power.
    • A false positive could be generated by...

      any one of quadrillions of very recent bits of new inputs, all affected in some way by quadrillions of inputs into them at any point in time by reality.

      Far to much for any system in anything but the very far flung far away future imagination of the most creative of science fiction writers.

      Meaning I imagine your quite right about false inputs.
  • Disagree

    Tom, I respectfully disagree with your comparative assessment on Government Snooping versus Business Snooping. We generally as end users accept the terms and conditions of a business, as we realize that their purpose is to build targeted marketing ads to purchase something. In this scenario, we are giving express or implied consent to the terms and conditions. Government, well say in this case, NSA, are harvesting wholesale data in a manner that questions the rational and two the concept, three the legality and four - that the end user is unknowingly having his data recorded and analyzed without any specific implied or expressed consent - which raises the issue of a unwarrantable and baseless snooping of law abiding citizens. There no doubt that Government snooping is least welcoming because the auspices in which the data is being collected just doesn't make sense. The thought of a free and open society is under attack, and we can reasonable believe that the Government is profiling not terrorist themselves - but the future of peoples actions.
    Mario Gastelum