Are we building the world defined by the movie “Gattaca”

March 14, 2019 by
Filed under: General News 

This post is about thinking how the project we are working on will impact the future of society as we know it. Quality of requirements we gather can impact society in ways later on that we did not think of. Most importantly, we need to always provide a secure back door where incorrect assumptions generated by computers can be overridden by humans otherwise we are at the mercy of the machines.

The 1997 movie “Gattaca” was about a person’s DNA being used to determine their potential in society. DNA would be used to work out what careers you would have access to. The protagonist of the story pays to use someone’s else DNA (adoption of identity instead of theft) to achieve their objective which currently they were banned from due to their inferior DNA.

If you think about the mechanics of the future life direction provided in “Gattaca”, it revolves around DNA having been previously analyzed to determine the career potential of a human being. Once the analysis was done, computers take control of processing an individual’s DNA to determine future worth to society. There is no need to have human involvement in the decision any longer as the formula is already developed and the outcome determined.

For those of us who work in IT we may encounter projects that are a cog in the works of this “Gattaca” future. These projects are efforts which seek to define a value for a human based on information received. Certainly at this point they are not focused on including DNA sampling to determine the value but that would seem to be only a matter to time. If we included DNA sampling that would give us the potential to look beyond the immediate prediction of value and include a future performance prediction as well.

Some of you may remember a 1995 movie called “The Net” where the issue was that the protagonist’s identity is erased causing her to have issues with doing anything in life. Having the computer store information related to our identity was the first step towards where we are now. What is significant in today’s world is how computers are adding points to that stored information that affect your value in society.

You may be asking at this point what IT projects that I work on would fall under this future “Gattaca” classification of determining human value? Below are some examples:

  • Human Resource systems – tracking of sick days and vacation days. Certain trends identified by the system can flag an employee as a risk.
  • Credit Scores. Speaks for itself and reliant on information that may or may not be correct.
  • Terrorist Name matching – how many Mr Smiths get delayed at the airport.
  • Computer Activity monitoring – not active enough and your employer can terminate you.
  • Grocery Store cards – are you buying healthy. Where does all that information go?
  • Job Interview software – companies are pushing more and more to remove the human from the initial interview loop and instead rely on a computer interview to screen applicants. Answer a question in the wrong way and you may never get passed the computer.
  • Job Search Engines – computer selects which resumes to be reviewed for potential interviews. If you don’t spend time trying to work out the current key words, your resume may never get viewed by human eyes.

Above just represents some of the projects that you may work on that determine the current value of a human. Underlying each one are formulas that are sold as: improvement in efficiency; reduction in costs etc.. for the organization that deploys the software. Side effect of course is that a computer now values the individual human based on the formulas used against the data received. While they don’t use DNA yet, they are certainly getting close.

We already know that in today’s world identity theft can give the stealing individual access to things that they would not have access to. That was the premise in “Gattaca” where the individual adopted another’s identity to achieve their goal. Identity theft would not be as easy if it were not for the computer storing points on an individual that determine their value to an organization and society thus opening or closing doors of opportunity. After identity theft, the victim may lose their place in society for a while if not permanently as their points total will be adjusted again by the computer based on the information generated by the identity theft. Victims are then tasked with reaching out to actual humans to correct what the computer is stating is valid. Humans tasked with correcting the information are at the mercy of the computers having a back door from which they can override the incorrect information.

So the next time you start to work on a project, ask yourself if you are building another “cog” in the “Gattaca” world machine and did you provide a secure back door override.

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