Big computing plans = big privacy issues

The future of computing will feature devices that monitor you, anticipate your actions and chronicle your life. The problem: Privacy concerns.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

The future of computing will feature devices that monitor you, anticipate your actions and chronicle your life. The problem: Privacy concerns.

Eric Horvitz, principal researcher at Microsoft Labs, demoed the software giant's "life browser" effort, which puts memories, images and other items in a flat organized file. It's similar to Microsoft's MyLifebits effort. He also showed some surface computing efforts, which requires software to anticipate your actions and then render them for a holographic effect.

The dark side of all of these applications is that there will be a lot of data mining going on. With that data mining comes privacy concerns.

Horvitz, speaking at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, acknowledged that solving the privacy problem "will be the enabler for this technology."

The solution thus far seems to be to only conduct data mining and store information locally. Horvitz said the challenge is coming up with enough computing power locally to make it happen. But the idea that personal information will be transmitted through a cloud didn't seem to fly in Horvitz's view.

Jerry Bautista, director of technology management at Intel's microprocessor research lab, agreed. He said that personal information will have to be processed locally to allay privacy concerns. For instance, Bautista noted that cameras monitoring someone at home should be personal information that is only mined locally. "With these private images you don't expected them to be transmitted over the Web," said Bautista. "That will require a lot of computing power."

We'll have video of the demonstrations from Microsoft, Intel and IBM later today.

Among other items:

  • Paul Bloom, communications sector business executive at IBM Research, illustrated "presence technologies" for mobile users. The components include software dubbed PASTA, which allows devices to "learn" where users are going and note locations and conditions. To go with this is something called Business Finder, which enables consumers to find nearby businesses. Finally, there's Presence Zone, which allows the user to use mobile profiles and adapt to situations. For instance, a doctor in the ER could tell his device not to ring. Bloom noted that enterprises could use this mobile technology to track assets--and people presumably. In the future, "everything will be sensorized," said Bloom. But just like Microsoft's Life Browser effort, privacy concerns will need to be ironed out.
  • Intel's Bautista said research is mostly directed to the company's product roadmap. He noted that quad core chips will evolve to eight and then 12 cores. Intel has pitched 80 core chips. The horsepower needed to deliver virtual environments is the equivalent of a data center on a chip that could be carried in your pocket. Bautista quipped that you could carry a data center in your pocket on an 80-core chip, but the endeavor "depends on how big of a power supply you want to drag behind you." 
  • Horvitz's demo of surface computing applications was interesting. One part of the video showed someone zooming in on a projected map using his hands. Excluding the fact that the image was projected onto a table, it resembled how you can navigate the iPhone touch screen.
  • Horvitz was also optimistic that computing was at an inflection point where intelligent systems will emerge. "Two hundred years from now we will see it as an age of intelligent machines," he said.

Editorial standards