Everything for Electronics
Posted in: Developing Perspectives (June 2013)

The Duality of Technology

By Bryan Bergeron

For example, the suspects apparently used simple RF triggers to detonate the two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line. The circuit was apparently simple enough that any Nuts & Volts reader could assemble one in an afternoon with instruction from the Internet. That same communications technology has not only transformed how we interact and do business, but saves thousands of lives annually.

At least for the time being, the bombings have focused the public’s attention on the responsible use of technology. There are renewed discussions, for example, on policing the Internet. Should anyone be allowed to post the schematic of a remote detonator on the Internet? Should providers block such content, just as they do in other countries?

The Internet seems inherently different from a print publication, where censorship (editorship) is the norm. For example, within the past year, I rejected a manuscript from an overseas author that detailed how to use a cell phone for a remote trigger to an unspecified device. Sure, it could have been used to start a car, but I decided the potential for harm was too great. As print publications move online, does the role of editorship somehow change? Are there liability issues?

There is also a change in perception on the use of surveillance. A month before the bombings, the talk around Boston was of banning surveillance cameras from public places — whether fixed or on drones. Post bombing, the public sentiment seems to have shifted to allow drones and fixed cameras in all public areas for both deterrence and to assist in identifying suspects.

Digital imaging and Internet technologies were certainly instrumental in the eventual capture of the surviving suspect. There was the crowd-sourced effort to identify the two suspects based on a pool of uploaded images. There were also the amazing IR images of the suspect hiding in the boat that probably saved the arresting officers from injury.

Will every major city in the US move toward the approach exercised in London, where thousands of cameras cover every street in the city? Will we go even further and allow police drones free access to city streets and perhaps even outlying areas? It’s too soon to tell, but it’s certain that a technological response to the bombings is inevitable. At issue is how we — as a society — balance the duality of technology so that we both enjoy our freedom and have some degree of protection against those who might cause us harm. NV