In this session from Techonomy 2011, in Tuscon, Ariz., Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick talks to Mike Lynch, CEO of Autonomy, about how technology is changing the realms of transparency and privacy. Lynch claims that evolving technology will make it nearly impossible for anyone’s actions to go unnoticed.
Lynch: Everyone gets very obsessed about the idea of surveillance and information. In fact, there’s CCTV cameras everywhere. We haven’t seen the problem yet because there’s no one to watch them. So all this information flies around, but unless you can understand what’s going on in the information you’re still relatively safe. We’re about to hit a fundamentally different situation. When you can start to understand the information and put it together, the ability to do something without it being known is going to become very, very difficult. And I’m not talking about Big Brother—
Kirkpatrick: You mean like do anything?
Lynch: Anything, yeah. And I’m not talking about Big Brother and governments; I’m talking about any arbitrary group of people.
Kirkpatrick: Who has access to the kind of software that you sell.
Lynch: Well, yeah, but that means downloading an app. So for example, you download an app on your smart phone today and through the camera it will read any license plate that happens to appear in front of it. Okay, that’s interesting. But imagine that you’re on a Facebook group and you’ve got a large number of people doing that and that information’s compared between them. You can track anyone moving around the city in that situation. And that’s not something which is requiring the resources of a government. So what you’ve got now—
Kirkpatrick: You mean if you had 20 or 30 people alone you might be able to really track a lot of vehicles—
Lynch: Yeah. And because of social media you could have groups cooperating with groups, so there’s 20 people that are interested in some politician and what they’re up to and there’s another 20 that are interested in something else.
Now, initially when you say this people say, “That’s great. That’s democracy. That’s transparency.” But what you’ve got to think about is how do human beings work and how do we get things done? And sometimes, actually, a little bit of deceit and a little bit of hypocrisy is really important to how human beings work. Now, we have to be very careful at this point not to get a quote, “Mike Lynch says, ‘Hypocrisy is a good thing.’” But let me give you an example: Northern Irish peace process. Wonderful thing that we’ve relatively speaking had peace in Northern Ireland. Now, there is no way that agreement could ever come into being if people had known that the parties from both sides were meeting. In fact, they both would have ended up with bullets in the back of their heads. So that is something where a great deal of good has come from the fact that we didn’t have transparency. So there’s really two sides to this and sometimes we get a bit obsessed with the idea that knowing everything and transparency is a good thing, but actually to solve some of the problems in the world you need to have the ability to get some stuff done behind the scenes.
Kirkpatrick: But you don’t seem to have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be able to have that privacy?
Lynch: No, I can’t conceive of how that privacy’s going to survive the ability of the machines to actually understand the data they’re getting, because there are going to be sensors everywhere. You know, we’re all carrying the most incredible sophisticated devices that can see and hear and know where they are. Then you couple that with the idea of swarms of sensors, which I think is also coming. Now, the thing that saved you in the past was you could generate this information, but unless you were really looking for something seriously, i.e. you had the resources of a government, it wasn’t a problem. Now there’s not going to be that limitation. So it’s going to be a very different world.