Tuesday, June 9, 2009

GPS phones track swine flu and other diseases


The Japanese government and mobile operator Softbank are about to enter the first phase of tests for new mobile phone technology that, incorporating GPS technology, tracks disease carriers. Details for how the test is set-up follows: The first phase will be conducted on 1000 elementary school students. They will be provided phones with the tracking program pre-installedy. A set number of the students will be selected to represented the infected population and monitored as they go about their lives normal, providing researchers a pretty good notion of how many others are potentially exposed to the 'disease.' Ultimately, the program is to provide the user with valuable and up-to-date advice such as when to stay indoors and when to go get a health check. Both mentioned parties behind the program's development are eager for the results, hoping they will confirm their predictions that the technology will prove successful in decreasing the number of contacts a disease makes and preventing massive outbreaks.

Though the government and Softbank tout the programs potentials, criticizing voices are already accusing it of infringing citizens' rights to privacy if implemented in a large-scale manner. They liken the program's monitoring capability with that of Big Brother's in Orwell's 1984. Whether or not this is the case has yet to be seen.

I am greatly interested in the double-edge sword that many emerging medical and biological technology appear to be. Clearly, the potential benefit such technology as the one discussed can bring society is significant. However, at its core, lies another great potential in the other direction, one that conflicts with standard ethics and herein lies our dillemma. I thought about a possible compromise between the population and the government but I realize that the technology would never generate its intended potency unless the entire population participated in it. The only way that the technology could bring its intended benefit without infringing on the population's privacy is it there are clear guidelines drawn up beforehand defining the limits and privileges of the monitoring operators. Otherwise, there's the potential that a lot personal information would be funneled into a few, wrong hands for their personal, exploitative use.

Anyway, this article really falls in love with what marvels me about technology. I think the power and potential that technology can provide humanity can be partially summed up with this quote from Spiderman. "This is my gift, this is my curse."


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