I don’t recall anyone asking for new technologies that would strip them naked in front of total strangers, but that’s the situation we’ve come to: Literally, when we pass through a portal to catch a flight; figuratively, when we cozy up to social media; and a bit of both when we become ensnared in the health care system. And yet, like the proverbial frog-in-the-soup, being immersed naked in front of everybody doesn’t cause enough pain to complain. That is, unless, in all our studied innocence, we get hacked.
We’ve become so inured to hearing reports of security breaches on Internet servers, home computers, and smartphones that they no longer surprise or even distress. We’ve seen malware, ransomware, botnets, Trojan horses, cyber-espionage, denial-of-service attacks, email intrusions, and other kinds of hacks float through the æther, but if they’re not up close and personal we move on to more important matters like online shopping and posting to our wall.
For a host of puzzling reasons, whenever science and technology showers humanity with fruits from the tree of knowledge, legions of evil geniuses collect them to ferment into bad wine they then pour into bottles affixed with respectable labels. It has been so since grapes were first cultivated, and there’s no hope for putting technology bootleggers in stir as long as companies we pay to take us online are part of the racket. In the event that worrying about getting hacked hasn’t been keeping you up at night, here are three tales of innovative intrusiveness that lie just around the corner, storified so as not to scold. Names have been changed to protect the unborn, the uncredited, and the unclothed.
You and your wife want to start a family, but genetic testing has revealed a discomforting risk. It’s called mitochondrial myopathy, and it can lead to any number of ghastly symptoms and a shortened life. Like an increasing number of young couples, you and your wife decide to make a recombinant baby. It involves a procedure to strategically insert your wife’s genes into a donor egg from someone you don’t know who can’t pass on the disease before you fertilize it in vitro. After a nerve-wracking but normal pregnancy, the blessed day arrives. Your healthy infant is tested and is declared free of the dreaded defect. However, her skin is swarthier than either yours or your wife’s, and she has really curly hair, which doesn’t run in your families either.
Your baby was hacked. Months later—far too late—you learn that databases at the company to which your wife and potential gene donors trusted genetic code had been compromised. Internet interlopers swapped generic and identifying data of prospective donors with those of clients who paid them to jump into the company’s gene pool. So, instead of receiving a dose of clinically matched genes from person X, your zygote came from a batch donated by unknown person Z. The hackers who pulled that off profited handsomely, leaving you to raise a child carrying the chromosomes of some egoist who doesn’t look like you.
Of course you love your new daughter very much. But who is she?
Whether the eBook got the Zeitgeist just right or your sexy social media marketing campaign was so masterful, your self-published novel “The Fat Lady Sings” became an unexpected hit. It sold 11,000 copies in two months and within six months you pick up buzz that it might be headed to the silver screen. Various attempts to track down the source of this puzzling rumor go nowhere. Certainly no producer has approached you asking to buy rights to your work.
The rumor proves to be true. You find some pre-publicity that reveals that there indeed is a production and its screenplay is the work of a screenwriter whose name turns out to be a pseudonym. Eventually you learn that the movie has been released under the title “Over,” and of course you go to see it. Action unfolds much like your book’s plot. Its dialog resonates. Its characters are a bit scrambled and have new names, but their traits and motivations are quite recognizable. You are outraged and decide to sue the producer.
The legal discovery process unearths the film’s screenplay. To prove plagiarism took place, you hire a literary forensics expert to map it to your text using advanced machine learning algorithms. Her findings document some thematic and syntactic correlations between your novel and the screenplay, but the court finds that sentences you claimed were derived from yours aren’t similar enough and neither are the characters. Your case evaporates. You suffer a loss of dignity as well as royalties and have to pay court costs.
It turns out that you are just one of hundreds of authors to be victimized by a low-profile piece of software. Someone fed your novel through the Mutabilis application to rephrase your prose as a retelling that does not violate copyright law. You research the software. You learn that Mutabilis uses morphological algorithms developed by the well-respected Computational Linguistics Group at Cambridge University. Perhaps they erred by putting their programme under Crown Copyright for all to see, as somebody trampled on their rights to erect Mutabilis around their code. Its maker sells it as a PC and Mac app on the gray market for $369.98 a pop. Crestfallen, realizing it’s only a matter of time until books are written by robots, you delete the sequel you were writing and look for ad agency jobs.
Lisa, your girlfriend and a happening fashion model, calls you late one night. She’s weirded out, hysterical, and says she needs you to come over right away. When you get to her place, you find her hunched down in the bathtub clutching a fly swatter. Between sobs, Lisa tells you that a huge bee got into her apartment and is following her around. She describes how it flew into her bedroom just after she got out of the shower. When she noticed it hovering, she screamed and flailed around at it. The insect menacingly circled her and then flew off, allowing her to retreat into the bathroom and call you.
Flyswatter in hand, you prowl through her place, but the thing is nowhere to be seen. You sit on her couch and hold her close until she finally sleeps. You’re fatigued, it’s 1 AM, and so you throw a blanket over her and tiptoe away. When you open her front door to leave, something small noisily lifts off your shoulder, darts through the door, and buzzes into the night. You need a hug too.
A week later, someone informs you that nude photos of Lisa have shown up in a tabloid gossip magazine. You dash to the supermarket to grab a copy, and there she is, completely and candidly unclothed. The article notes that more pictures and videos are available on their subscribers-only Web site. Of course you sign up, paying 49.95 for the privilege.
The pictures clearly show Lisa in her bedroom, and are very revealing. You think back to the bee incident and immediately realize that her premises must have been hacked by a miniature drone with a videocam configured to look like an insect. Lisa retains a lawyer to go after the tabloid, which turns out to have offices in the Cayman Islands and refuses to divulge the source of the images, citing the First Amendment. They also say that if sued, they will reveal evidence that depicts the actual paparazzi leaving Lisa’s apartment. That, of course, would be you.
So Lisa fires her lawyer and hires an agent to handle her sudden unwanted publicity. You kiss off the $49.95 and buy Lisa a can of cooking spray, just in case it happens again.
Geoff Dutton’s meteoric career as a geospatial software developer crashed and burned in a series of foreseeable layoffs. In response, he did what many ex-academics and techies do: become a professional mansplainer, spending the prime of his life as an IT columnist and a technical writer telling computer users what they should and shouldn’t do. Along the way, he found time to author a novel, hundreds of stories, articles, memoirs, broadsides, and the odd poem, most recently at progressivepilgrim.review. Geoff lives near Boston and likes to forage for wild mushrooms and cook for his family (all are perfectly well, thank you).