Caprica provides an origin story for the Cylons, a cyborg race created by humans who later attempt to annihilate their masters. That may sound pretty de rigueur as far as the sci-fi genre goes, but here's the twist: we learn that each Cylon's "being" -- his, her, or its unique identity or essence -- is actually the aggregation of a human individual's medical records, purchasing patterns, educational transcripts, voting records, electronic communications, and other personal information archived online. The Cylons are, in other words, the walking, talking, informational avatars of the human race.
It was with all that in mind that I happened upon the clip embedded below, which is from the February 2, 2010 episode of The Colbert Report. The title, "Cognoscor Ergo Sum," translates from the Latin as, "I am known, therefore I am." How apt. In the segment Colbert spotlights Blippy.com, IJustMadeLove.com, and other websites that allow people to reveal and record the intimate details of their daily lives. Blippy lets you broadcast what you've just purchased using your credit card, and where. IJustMadeLove allows you shout from the electronic rooftops when, where, and how you've just done the nasty. (Yes, I wish I were making that one up.)
|The Word - Cognoscor Ergo Sum|
There's been all sorts of talk for years now about the vulnerability of information online, and it's no surprise given the proliferation of networked databases that identity theft has emerged as one of the foremost crimes of our time. What's even more striking to me, however, is how Caprica and the Colbert clip together seem to shift the meaning of -- and even up the ante on -- identity theft.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that we humans are poised to give rise a line of super-machines intent on wiping us out. What I am suggesting, though, is that we can only begin to imagine how and for what purpose the digital data trails that we leave behind today will be used in the future. I like to think about it this way: when I started college, how could I have anticipated a rash of photos and videos surfacing close to 20 years later on Facebook? Heck -- there was barely an internet back then, let alone affordable scanners or even the idea of social networking.
Leave it to popular culture, then, to register one of the critical questions of this new decade: how does a society plan for an information future that may well be unfathomable, technologically speaking?