Future contingent privacy

Yesterday, during one of the fancy breakfasts at The Cloister on Sea Island, a waiter looked at my plate and asked whether I wanted the scrambled eggs. He was so nice about it, clearly wanting to make sure I hadn’t missed seeing the eggs when I had gone to the buffet table.

I politely declined, thanking him. I realized he had no way of knowing that I don’t eat eggs.

It occurs to me that when people start wearing those future reality glasses, waiters will be able to know such things. In fact, that sort of knowledge might save lives. If somebody has an extreme peanut or seafood allergy, you don’t want to put a plate in front of them that contains peanuts or seafood.

There are all sorts of situations like this, where the right knowledge at the right time can be anything from convenient to life saving. But of course we also need to think about privacy.

We already have a complex set of systems in place to get information to the right place without compromising privacy or security. You can withdraw money from your bank at a convenient ATM, but the person in line behind you cannot then proceed to withdraw money from your account.

Similarly, we have ways for doctors to send each other health information about you without anybody else getting access to that data. In fact, such security is necessary for a computer-based health care system to be able to function.

I suspect that in future reality we will develop similar systems for even more casual interactions. The waiter will know whether you have food preferences or food allergies because you have granted restaurants access to that information. But that doesn’t mean they have access to other personal information about you.

It will be interesting to see how all of this develops. Most people will not be interested in the implementation details of such wearable-enabled systems for ensuring privacy and security. But they will be very interested in — and invested in — the outcome.

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