Future Spies: Protectors or Oppressors?

What would happen to a society if a government possessed total information awareness? We hope that they would turn their information-gathering prowess towards entities that posed a legitimate threat to its people, but would the power of their new tool be too great for responsible use? Would their newfound technology lead them down a path of control where intelligence agencies can peer into the lives of political enemies or even into its citizen’s daily affairs?

This is by far not a new question, as incidents as wide ranging as Watergate, The UN Spying Scandal, and the current Warrantless Wiretapping scenario clearly show. But the implications of these old scenarios are still confined to the level of technology available at the time. What will happen when eavesdropping technologies make unprecedented strides in the areas of mobility, video and audio recording? A few months ago, this is the question I stumbled upon while discussing the theoretical implications of miniature robotic spies.

Theoretical Structure:

In terms of mechanical structure my musings led me to believe that robotic flies would be the ideal spy-vehicle once a few technological hurdles were overcome. And these hurdles could also be viewed as indicators for advancement in this venture, and were as follows:

  • A Mathematical Understanding of Fly Locomotion
  • Artificial Insect Wings
  • Viable Miniature Power Sources using Nanoscale Batteries
  • A Feasible Method of Image and or Audio Recording/Transmission
  • In the past few years, substantial progress has been made with many of these indicators – especially the understanding of fly and bee locomotion.

    Theoretically, the use of cellophane (powered by microwaves that a tiny antenna can convert into dc current) could function as the wings of the mechanical insect. The vision systems could be based on tiny cameras using software algorithms derived from actual fly vision and the audio recording systems could learn lessons derived from insects as well.

    Power sources today dissipate too much heat and are rather clunky and as a result new sources would have to be made to activate these tiny machines. They could eventually be based off rechargeable nanobatteries – batteries that may use up only about half of the devices total space/weight.

    The final hurdles for these systems would be the storage devices for the recorded audio and visual data, and the methods of controlling the actual robot. Many storage systems such as nanomagnetics promise extreme payoffs in terms of size per byte ratio. These could be incorporated into the body of the mechanism or a Bluetooth-style system could be employed to send the recorded data to a nearby storage device that the robot could carry and (though that could also complicate the system). Remote controlling systems could be incorporated or the system could benefit from advances in AI and autonomous systems programming.

    Implications:

    The difference between Micro Air Vehicles and traditional forms of eavesdropping (internet, phone, and fixed location audio/visual bugging) is that these systems would have unprecedented flexibility in terms of redeployment. They would also have a large operational range, could employ audio recording of a target without being limited by the target’s phone usage (as in contemporary systems, excluding fixed buds), and would have mobile visual recording capability.

    Envisioning systems like these in the next ten years makes one wonder how they would be deployed in light of the grossly negligible use of spying systems today.