Archive for August, 2007
With all of the talk of censoring Google Earth to "protect against terrorism," concerned government officials should look to history to see how we hid an entire airplane factory from Japanese reconnaissance in WWII. We did not demand that Japan (or even friendly forces) remove the factory from aerial surveys.
We simply covered them up. In this case, remarkably so. We made an enormous factory seem like a residential subdivision. Click the "before" image above for pics of the impressive makeover.
Now, with sub-meter resolution, even this type of camouflage could be detected on careful (perhaps only trained or dedicated) observation. However, the same principle still applies. Make sensitive sites seem like something else. Paint the tops of gas tanks to look like pools of water. Paint pipelines to look like jogging or bike trails. You get the idea. You can photoshop every aerial survey, or you can fix the problem at the source.
More importantly, Google Earth then becomes a tool of independent government watchdogs to tell when government isn’t doing its job of protecting sensitive sites. No wonder they want to censor.
A Sony researcher got the bright idea in 2000 or so that sound waves could someday be used to stimulate thoughts, perhaps for use in simulations, to evoke sounds, smells, and so on. So he patented the idea, lest someone steal his ‘invention’ before he got around to actually inventing it.
No experiments were done, according to Sony. No prototype was built. No work product exists to be protected. There is only pure speculation, and of course, a patent application, which for some reason was granted by our wonderful USPTO.
The only saving grace is that it may be 2020 before anyone actually builds this kind of thing, by which time this patent will have expired. However, though I am not a lawyer, I’m pretty sure that if anyone does actually invent such a technology on their own, they have nothing to worry about — except perhaps an expensive bogus lawsuit from Sony, which Sony would ultimately lose. The patent is so clearly fraudulent that even Sony doesn’t even pretend they have anything worthwhile.
There simply is no such thing as a "speculative" or "blue sky" patent. One of the basic tenets of patent law is that a thing has to actually exist to be patentable. I mean, following Sony’s model, what’s to stop me from reading (or writing) science fiction and patenting my "VR contact lenses," or "flying cars," "subspace communications," or my fancy new method of space travel, if all I have to do is describe the thing at the high level, but not tell (or even know) how it might actually work?
Can you imagine how much worse IP law would be if all you had to do to patent something was play buzzword bingo and guess the next big breakthrough terms?
In guessing what Google and the marketplace have in store for us, I’m taking into account both what’s technologically feasible, now and on the horizon, and what I think people will demand.
I blogged a while back about virtualization and privacy issues for both Street View and Maps/Earth, which, for starters, implies to a [predicted] future version of Street View that erases people and even cars from the imagery you see. So let’s start there.