Autonomy CEO’s terrifying prediction: the rise of the surveillance society

November 15, 2011

As a general rule, senior executives at technology companies tend to try to make the public feel excited about the future and about technology’s role to improve it.

Mike Lynch, the CEO of Autonomy, must not have gotten that memo; or he decided to ignore it.

During a talk at the Techonomy conference on Monday, Lynch described a dark world in which today’s celebrated technologies, such as social networking and smartphones, become the nefarious tools of a surveillance society.

This vision, Lynch explained, is not some dystopian, parallel universe, but rather the inevitable end-product of era in which technology becomes ever-cheaper, smarter and ubiquitous.

“There are going to be sensors everywhere. We’re all carrying the most incredibly sophisticated devices that can see and hear and learn where they are,” he said. While governments have long had the resources to build an Orwellian state, Lynch said the real danger lies in what “any arbitrary group of people” will soon be able to do with the technology.

Imagine a smartphone app that automatically reads every car license plate that appears in front of it, Lynch hypothesized. Use social networking to connect a group of people wielding the same app, he posited, and suddenly that group has the ability to track almost anyone in a city.

“I can’t conceive of how privacy is going to survive the ability of the machines to actually understand the data they’re getting,” he said.

Lynch, who just sold his company to computer giant Hewlett-Packard for $12 billion, told the audience he was not making a “value judgment” about such a future, but only stating what he saw as an inevitability.

In fact, shortly after presenting his disturbing vision, Lynch cheerfully launched into a feel-good product demo that showed how software can add digital animation and promotional marketing material to everyday objects that are photographed with a smartphone or tablet PC.

Welcome to the future.

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