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Biotelemetrica: Towards a Peer to Peer Control Society?


"Biotelemetrics" names a diverse set of practices, technologies and disciplines oriented toward the non-invasive determination of human identity at a distance. Facial recognition, iris scans, gait signatures, and residual DNA analysis all compete with dozens of other technologies to render the holy grail of contemporary security science: a reliable and stealthy apprehension of human identity. Long a fascination of the Cold War Security State and science fiction, biotelemetrics is now a fundamental strategy in the "War on Terror". Already, global standards organizations - the International Electrotechnical Commission, the International Standards Organization, and the International Telecommunications Union - have sought to establish protocols governing the safety of biotelemetric technologies in contact with the diverse set of human populations likely to be surveyed by them. Civil liberties groups around the world have begun to have their own apprehensions or visions of the near future - a control society in which privacy is nonexistent and human freedom atrophies, shrivels and disappears. At the same time, the successful biotelemetric technologies, like all emerging technologies, are themselves difficult to predict, a conjunction of great promise and unknown complexities. Subject to a series of mis-starts and haunted by unforeseen complexities, biotelemetrics remains a huge market and potentially disruptive technology waiting for the right mix of technologies, protocols and global politics. The outcome promises to be a case study in the effect of what sociologists of technology like to call a "disruptive technology" - a new set of practices or infrastructure that alter not just what we do, but what we are.


In 2003, I published my second book, "Wetwares: Experiments in PostVital Living" (Minnesota, Theory Out of Bounds, 2003). Wetwares analyzes the effects of the "informatic vision" of the life sciences on human subjectivity and embodiement. The book argues that our increasingly informational ecology renders fantasies of human autonomy obsolete as they become spectactularly impossible on a rapidly interconnecting planet. Such news is perhaps just cause for despair for humanist visions of human capacities and health as static or fixed phenonema rather than evolutionary happenings. "Wetwares" argues that new forms of resonantly ( and sometimes, alas, resoundingly!) human embodiement and subjectivity are already emerging from digital culture, as whole ecologies begin to yet again co-evolve with the technologies wielded by them. "Wetwares" counsels experimentation rather than despair even while it provides tools for deconstructing the often stunningly apocalyptic visions and claims associated with new technologies of life (biotechnology) and information.


In August 2004, I was contacted by the International Electrotechnical Commission, a global standards organization that establishes protocols for electrical and informational technologies. Founded by Lord Kelvin in 1906, the IEC seeks to create stable and replicable protocols for the safe deployment of technologies around the planet. After reading Wetwares as well as my first book about the informatic vision, On Beyond Living: Rhetorical Transformations of the Life Sciences, IEC Technical Committee 25/ Working Group 5 sought my expertise in helping them develop "wetware protocols" to regulate the safe deployment of biotelemetric technologies. I responded that there was no such safe deployment, since the technologies themselves present a very real danger to civil liberties. I told them that I would not, in either sense of the term, collaborate with their scheme as I considered it a gateway to the control society.



Page Two, Biotelemetrica: Towards a Peer to Peer Control Society?

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