Blips from the future.

18 June 2009

While doing some research for another entry I stumbled across a pair of articles in my daily news feed scan that jumped out at me because they seem thematically appropriate. Warren Ellis called them “outbreaks of the future” because they hint at things to come when they appear in the media. Or maybe it’s because they ring of what was once science fiction while carrying a byline of the now.

James Symington of the Halifax, Canada police department’s K-9 unit worked with a search-and-rescue dog named Trakr for fifteen years. Trakr’s claim to fame came during the aftermath of 9/11 when the duo rescued the final survivor of the attacks from the rubble. Trakr was also recognized for his knack of locating stolen goods by tracking the scents left on them. Unfortunately, Trakr died of old age in April of this year, but his partner Symington now lives with five clones of his working dog. The company BioArts of Northern California ran an essay competition in which the winner would be gifted with clones of a treasured animal. Symington won the competition and is now the proud master of five re-implementations of Trakr named Trust, Valor, Solace, Prodigy, and Deja Vu grown from tissue samples taken from Trakr. While the five v2.0 dogs won’t be identical to Trakr because initial conditions have a lot to do with the personality, temprament, and talent and you can’t reproduce those exactly, it’ll be interesting to see how they turn out.

It isn’t known if the v2.0 dogs will be tested to see if they can be successfully trained to pick up where Trakr v1.0 left off.

In other news, background investigations are becoming more and more strict in the private sector. In the city of Bozeman, Montana people who apply for jobs with the city have to turn over their usernames and passwords for every social networking site they’re on so that their posts may be examined. The question of whether or not the city can keep that information safe aside, this is a serious invasion of personal privacy. While it’s understandable that they’re looking for signs of overt drug use, binge drinking, or other sundry forms of excessive behavior which might negatively impact the city, there are lots of other things which could either embarass the person in question because it got out (and if it comes up in a background check it’s effectively gotten out) or unfairly keep them from getting a job. Right off the bat I can think of some support groups that tend to appear on most every social networking site these days, such as those for people who have not come out of the closet but are homosexual or bisexual, who are undergoing treatment for chronic depression, who are survivors of abuse, or who are recovering from addiction of some sort. I don’t know if Montana is a “hire at will” state or not, but something tells me that they don’t necessarily have to tell you why they didn’t want to hire you…

Something which the article mentions that I had not considered is that by turning over your credentials to them, you also expose everyone you’ve friended on those networks to them for scrutiny, so the potential privacy impact is much greater than it first appears.