Will SFPark Encourage Earth to Rise Up Against Its Human Foe?

Categories: Government, Tech
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Mother Nature Fights Back
As noted earlier on this page, San Francisco today launches a large-scale test of a new parking system whereby pavement-embedded sensors communicate with each other, a central computer, and parking meters in order to be able to raise prices when empty spaces become scarce.

The idea is to achieve the urban planner's goal of "sitcom standard" parking, where meter rates are set just pricey enough to always keep one or two spaces empty near a store, library or whatever, so people can pull up and park effortlessly, just like on TV.

Confusing. So the system's new SFPark.org website is dominated by FAQ links titled 'How do meters work?" Strangely, SFPark overseers seem to skip the most pressing question posed by this new system, one raised by SF Weekly in 2005: Will SFPark help create a sentient Mother Earth who rises up against her human overlords?

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Will SFPark make James Cameron a prophet?
SFPark is based a type of battlefield networking technology developed by the U.S. Military. The basic idea was that if an army could drop millions of tiny temperature, pressure, sound, and other sensors over vast swaths of land, and if these sensors could radio information to neighboring sensors, forming a vast physical network of tiny computers linked by weak radio signals, enemy movements could ultimately be relayed to a supercomputer and analyzed by a general. SFPark replaces soldier footsteps with pressure from car tires, in order to adjust prices in real time to keep up with parking supply and demand.

However, the project's San Francisco launch seems to have ignored the dangers implicit in turning the earth's surface into a feeling, hearing, thinking, communicating super-being. In 2005, SF Weekly warned that this project threatened to turn the earthly crust into a vast, and perhaps vengeful being, wont to rise up against humankind.

In the future, the world's surface may be salted with billions of synthetic brain cells, each sensing its surroundings and communicating with neighbor cells. This multi-layered sensing and networking ability is, in the mind of some artificial-life computer researchers, the pith of intelligence. So, once it's covered with a perceptive neural network, the planet's surface might develop thoughts and feelings of its own.

Far-fetched? Certainly. But that didn't stop us from speculating in 2005 that SFPark -- then in its zygote phase -- might engender an Earth-wide Holocaust that becomes Mother Nature's version of washing mites out of her hair. If SFPark and other similar technologies catch on widely and link into  expansive sensory neural networks, we wrote,

 "it's easy to imagine a future in which information about battlefield dust devils and downtown tire tracks is networked in the world's collective computer consciousness, the way financial and other data are now. Weather satellites and fire alarms could become obsolete. Perhaps even telephones would, too. Just speak a friend's name into the Potrero breeze, and she'll hear your voice's unique frequency in Budapest."
The question must be posed, however: Will such a system always serve us? Or will we someday serve it? Or her?

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