Day 8 Reflections

This week was a special as we had David Eaves come in and talk to us about how the government is using technology to try to enhance its citizens lives. ProfessorĀ Eaves was very knowledgable on the topic, and it was a topic that I never really had thought about. When he first introduced himself, I thought he would be a computer science guy that was working on the software and hardware for these governments. In fact, he was the opposite and he argued that empathy was the most important factor in the technological advances that governments make to improve the lives of their citizens. He made the metaphor that the fastest runner in the world will not win the race if he does not know where he is going, and therefore it is not the runner that is the most important, but rather the individual that is telling the runner where the run. He compared the runner to the coder, andĀ the empathetic individual to the man that knew the route. Personally, I disagree with this statement. Professor Eaves was arguing that we do not need more high level coders, but rather need more people that are willing to solve the problems and direct the coders in the correct direction. Yet, I believe that the runner (the coder) is just as or even more important as the man who is telling the runner where to go. Sure, this individual might know the route of the race, but there is no possible way to win the race without the fastest runner. Additionally, to be the best runner, one of the skills would be to know where you are going, and the one of the main skills of a coder is to attack problems and come up with solutions. I agree with Professor Eaves with the fact that there must be more people that are willing to solve these technological issues, but who says it can’t be the runners (coders) themselves. I really did not like how he downplayed the importance of the coder, as without these coders, there would be no technological advances.

Another point that Mr. Eaves made that was shocking was the 3rd degree “rule of thumb” or idea he shared with us. If you are within 3 degrees of a suspicious/wanted individual, the FBI is most likely collecting tons more data on you than if you weren’t three degrees separated from a suspicious/wanted individual. Since I am in email contact with Professor Waldo, and he is in contact with an individual that was in contact with Snowden, then according to this rule I am being watched more than the average person. What? What did I do? To me, that is completely shocking and eye-opening.

This made me think of all the times that there is data collected about you by the government. For example, the sidewalk labs collect data about you every time that you check in to one of them. Cell phone towers interact with your phone every time you pass into their range. The amount of data that the government has about you is astounding. It is true we are all digital citizens of our nation.

Also, what horrified me the most was at the Baltimore protests police were able to use image recognition technology to identify those who had a warrant, and were able to single them out of the crowd and arrest them. What? How? Does that mean that one day if I am walking down that street, and I have not paid a parking ticket, a police officer will be able to see that and get me in trouble right then and there? Will we ever have privacy on our sidewalks? Scary stuff

A few big questions I have are:

What does the government do with this information?

Is this ethical? Did we ever vote on this?


I hope you enjoyed this edition of Hollenberg’s Thoughts. More to come next week.


No surprise Brady is incredible


  1. Jim Waldo

    November 9, 2016 @ 2:05 am


    So, you are picking up on an argument David Eaves and I have all the time as to whether it is important for people doing policy to know something about coding, and whether people who write the code need to know something about policy. I see this as a much more interdisciplinary problem than my learned colleague. But it is an interesting discussion.

    The privacy implications of all of the data being gathered about us (and generated by us) does have troubling implications for individual privacy. There are some interesting courses on this at Harvard, and we will talk about this topic some just before Thanksgiving.

    And I have to agree with you about Brady…

  2. profsmith

    November 13, 2016 @ 8:28 pm


    Great thoughts and questions. Others in the class have commented on the runner analogy, and you might want to read what they wrote and what I wrote in response to one of these posts.

    Here, I’m going to comment on your comment about outstanding warrants and the use of facial recognition. This is an example of a use of new technology by someone trying to get their job done (e.g., the police recognizing that they could use facial recognition to check individuals for outstanding warrants when seeing them on the street rather than having to have some other reason to stop the person and then use that person’s id to check the database of outstanding warrants). It’s easy for law enforcement, in this instance, to believe that this is a Good Thing. If you don’t have an outstanding warrant, you have nothing to fear (goes the logic). Furthermore, in the world today, people are stopped and their ids checked to see if they have an outstanding warrant. In this new world, the police would never need to actively engage with a person in order to check for an outstanding warrant. Fewer interactions for reasons of suspicion might mean less profiling. The police can focus on real crimes.

    Technology exists and then someone sees a use that looks to them looks like a Good Thing. It’s not until others without an interest (or maybe an opposing interest in) the new use start to think about it that the specter of a conflict arises. Now the policy and legal world try to catch up.

    This pattern has repeated itself many times, and I doubt it will stop.

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