CNN reports on a proposal by Hewlett-Packard to deploy sensors across the planet in order to gather data.
In the 1990s, a researcher named Kris Pister dreamed up a wild future in which people would sprinkle the Earth with countless tiny sensors, no larger than grains of rice.
These “smart dust” particles, as he called them, would monitor everything, acting like electronic nerve endings for the planet. Fitted with computing power, sensing equipment, wireless radios and long battery life, the smart dust would make observations and relay mountains of real-time data about people, cities and the natural environment.
Now, a version of Pister’s smart dust fantasy is starting to become reality. […]
The latest news comes from the computer and printing company Hewlett-Packard, which recently announced it’s working on a project it calls the “Central Nervous System for the Earth.” In coming years, the company plans to deploy a trillion sensors all over the planet.
The wireless devices would check to see if ecosystems are healthy, detect earthquakes more rapidly, predict traffic patterns and monitor energy use. The idea is that accidents could be prevented and energy could be saved if people knew more about the world in real time, instead of when workers check on these issues only occasionally. […]
Even when deployed for science or the public, some people still get a Big Brother feeling — the uncomfortable sense of being under constant, secret surveillance — from the idea of putting trillions of monitors all over the world.
“It’s a very, very, very huge potential privacy invasion because we’re talking about very, very small sensors that can be undetectable, effectively,” said Lee Tien, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocate. […]
“Clearly, there are security concerns and privacy concerns,” [Pister] said, “and the good news is that when the radio technology was being developed for this stuff, it was shortly after all of the big concerns about Wi-Fi security. … We’ve got all the security tools we need underneath to make this information private.”
Further privacy concerns may arise if another vision for smart dust comes true. Some researchers are looking into making mobile phones into sensors.
In this scenario, the billions of people roaming the Earth with cell phones become the “smart dust.”