Back in 2000, I wrote a novel, Permanence, in which among other things I speculated about the future of smart tagging and augmented reality systems (I called it 'inscape' because augmented reality wasn't really a current term at the time). Sometimes I'm optimistic about such technologies; in this case I went dystopian. The question was, what happens when physical objects are given a virtual "soul" or digital counterpart, which is irrevocably attached to it? One of the possible results is written up in this short scene from the novel.
He remembered one day running up the street to his house's door and his father shouting. That was the beginning and end of his personal experience of the Reconquista, when the FTL ships from the Rights Economy took the government of Kimpurusha.
When he thought about the Reconquista, he always did so through the lens of another, singular memory:
There was a chair in his home. It was unique in the household--made of rosewood, large and with an embroidered seat and splat, where the other chairs were more utilitarian and factory-made. The legs were carved with intricate floral designs. Michael's toys scaled it and it was the biggest mountain in the world; his dolls sat along its front edge and they were steering it, a cycler, through the deepest spaces between the suns. He built constructions of blocks around the crosspiece between its legs and it was a generating station. For the youngest son of the Bequith household, this chair could become anything, with a simple flip of the imagination.
One day, not long after the running and shouting, a strange man came to the house. He was tall and pale and seemed nervous as he paced through the rooms. In each one he took a canister and aimed it at the furniture and fixtures. A fine smoke puffed out and fell slowly to vanish as it touched things.
“What's that?” he had asked his father.
“Nanotags,” said father, as if it were a curse.
The man entered the hall and puffed smoke on the rosewood chair.
Other men came and Michael had to go with them. They took him to a hospital and made him sleep. When he awoke he could feel the distant roar of inscape in his head, like an unsettled crowd. He felt grown up, because he knew you weren't allowed to get inscape implants until adulthood and he was only ten years old. The men took him home and his mother cried and it was at that point that he realized something was wrong.
He didn't know what for a while, but the inscape laid its own version of things over his sight and hearing. He would learn to tune it out, he was told; but for the moment, he couldn't.
Now, when he looked at the rosewood chair, all he could see was the matrix of numbers superimposed on it, that told the monetary value of its parts and whole. And so with the drapes, the walls, windows and the rice as he picked it up with his chopsticks.
He imagined--and he knew it couldn't be so--that the people of the free halo worlds still saw things like the boy before they had put nanotags in every object and inscape in his head. As if a chair could be a mountain or a starship and not just a collection of values and registrations.
To think this way was to miss something he hadn't even known was his when he had it.
Ideas like these have led me to believe that identity is something that you must be able to turn off. Identity *must* be contestable to avoid hellish scenarios like this one. As I said in one of the other discussions, we don't have identities anyway, only process of identification, which must be provisional and contestable. Likewise, the systems that coordinate actions in the real world have to be malleable and contestable.
Thoughts? What, for you, would turn the block chain, or Ethereum, from a dream technology into a nightmare?