By SHARON K. GILBERT
October 31, 2007
IMAGINE yourself stranded — out of gas — on a small gravel road, somewhere in the middle of Kansas. You have no map of the area, and you are certain that your hotel back in Topeka is at least an hour away. You check your cell phone, but the battery’s dead. What do you do? Even a few years ago, you might well have started walking, hoping to find a nearby farmhouse.
Not so today. The modern road warrior can now press a button on his onboard GPS tracking service. “May I help you, Mr. Larson? We see that your gas tank is empty, and it appears that you are alone. We’ve dispatched a rescue truck from the nearest participating dealer, and we’ve placed a call to your hotel — that’s the Center City Inn, isn’t it? By the way, since you failed to refuel when the guage reached one-quarter tank, and since you’ve driven over the speed limit three times, we have debited your credit card the mandatory fine of $300.00. Shall I remain on the line until help arrives?”
Although I write fiction, I assure you that this scenario is very real. Take for instance, the recent case in Connecticut involving Acme rental company. According to the complaint, Acme has been charging customers for driving over 79 miles per hour.
“Vehicles driven in excess of the posted speed limit will be charged $150 per occurrence. All our vehicles are GPS equipped.” (Acme eventually replaced the words “posted speed limit” with “79 miles per hour.”)
GPS tracking systems provide police with precise locations of criminals, offer directions to the lost driver, and serve as a 24/7 rescue service, but there is a darker side to this 21st century techno-savior. You and I are always being watched. Soon, closed-circuit cameras will gaze upon us at every intersection while reading RFID tags placed on our license plates and coordinating our position with a vast computer interface.We’ll even hear personalized commercials on our satellite radio — “Mr. Larson, MegaSaver has a special on diet frozen dinners! Turn right at the next signal. We’ll reserve half a dozen of the chicken marsala – your favorite and so good for a diabetic. Don’t wait! Their stock is running low!”
Debit card information will be tracked via our personal Verichip implant, to provide security and efficiency. We can fill up our fuel tanks without having to swipe a card. The computers will conduct the transaction without our having to give it a passing thought. Low on cash? No problem! “Mr. Larson, we note that your account is running low and your next paycheck won’t be deposited for three days. We’ll go ahead and advance you five hundred credits as provided by your contract with us. We have your signature on file for the loan. This leaves three thousand left in your equity loan account. Remember to repair the lock on your backdoor or you run the risk of default on your agreement. Have a nice day!”
Truckers will benefit as well. The spacious lanes of the trans-continental transit system will track each delivery and exact tolls along a set of RFID enabled collection stations. Truck weights, driving records, and even blood alcohol reports will ensure prompt, safe delivery of Pan-America’s goods.
Commuter lanes will facilitate quicker morning drives, and mechanized sentry markers will assess the number of passengers. Any driver caught without a full car will be pulled over remotely, and substantial fines will be debited from the driver’s account. Traffic drones will fly high above, monitoring traffic flow while sending back video to human workers far below ground level.
Even our homes will be safer in a few years. RFID locks will open only to a verified sensor key, and television and computer screen cameras will alert authorities of any civic or criminal violations. “Mr. Larson, you are not allowed to smoke in this apartment. Please remain in place and wait for the civic patrol. Have a nice day!”
The country we know today as the United States will no longer exist, but will have been replaced with Pan-America, Region I of the Global Alliance. Our infrastructure will be in the hands of Spain and China, gas stations owned by Russia and Venezuela, and all communcations will be under the single umbrella of an international conglomerate. Our news, consumer goods, and travel will be controlled. We will be chipped at birth, and once our genetic print is examined, we’ll be approved for mating or scheduled for vasectomy or tubal ligation.
Far-fetched? Thirty years ago, when I first read Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, Brave New World, I would have said yes. Older now, and having spent the past ten years observing our changing geopolitical and economic system, I fear Huxley’s world is not just coming — it may already be here.