NEW YORK -- The CIA's chief technology officer outlined the agency's endless appetite for data in a far-ranging speech on Wednesday.
Speaking before a crowd of tech geeks at GigaOM's Structure:Data conference in New York City, CTO Ira "Gus" Hunt said that the world is increasingly awash in information from text messages, tweets, and videos -- and that the agency wants all of it.
"The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time," Hunt said. "Since you can't connect dots you don't have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever."
Hunt's comments come two days after Federal Computer Week reported that the CIA has committed to a massive, $600 million, 10-year deal with Amazon for cloud computing services. The agency has not commented on that report, but Hunt's speech, which included multiple references to cloud computing, indicates that it does indeed have interest in storage and analysis capabilities on a massive scale.
The CIA is keenly interested in capabilities for so-called "big data" -- the increasingly massive data sets created by digital technology. The agency even has a page on its website pitching big data jobs to prospective employees.
Hunt acknowleded that at some scale, data storage becomes impractical, adding that he meant "forever being in quotes" when he said the agency wants to keep data "forever." But he also indicated that he was interested in computing capabilities like 1 petabyte of RAM, a massive capacity for on-the-fly calculations that has heretofore been seen only in computers that simulate nuclear explosions.
He referenced the failure to "connect the dots" in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "underwear bomber" who was able to board a plan with an explosive device despite repeated warnings of his intentions. In that case, a White House review found that the CIA had all of the data it needed to identify the would-be bomber, but still failed to stop him. Nevertheless, the agency does not seem to have curbed its ambitions for an endless amount of data.
A slide from Hunt's presentation.
"It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information," Hunt said. After that mark is reached, Hunt said, the agency would also like to be able to save and analyze all of the digital breadcrumbs people don't even know they are creating.
"You're already a walking sensor platform," he said, nothing that mobiles, smartphones and iPads come with cameras, accelerometers, light detectors and geolocation capabilities.
"You are aware of the fact that somebody can know where you are at all times, because you carry a mobile device, even if that mobile device is turned off," he said. "You know this, I hope? Yes? Well, you should."
Hunt also spoke of mobile apps that will be able to control pacemakers -- even involuntarily -- and joked about a "dystopian" future where self-driving cars force people to go to the grocery store to pick up milk for their spouses.
Hunt's speech barely touched on privacy concerns. But he did acknowledge that they exist.
"Technology in this world is moving faster than government or law can keep up," he said. "It's moving faster I would argue than you can keep up: You should be asking the question of what are your rights and who owns your data."
We Tell Everyone Where We Are
Some platforms, like FourSquare, were designed to show the world our locations. Others, like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/instagram">photo-sharing app Instagram</a>, make it too easy for us to inadvertently give ourselves away. In fact, we're so accustomed to snapping "artsy" pics of puppies and salads that it's possible we're unintentionally sharing our whereabouts, particularly if the photos aren't categorized as "private." So if you call out of work sick, make sure you don't accidentally post a picture of yourself relaxing at the local beach. Or, if you're feeling paranoid and want to minimize unwanted attention, go to your Instagram "Options" page and select the "Photos Are Private" button.
We Don't Respond When We're Being Watched
For many years, we were able to read Facebook messages at our leisure -- and then promptly ignore them. But the social network <a href="http://newsroom.fb.com/News/434/A-New-Look-for-Facebook-Messages">rolled out a new feature</a> that lets users see when a recipient has read a chat or message they've sent. So if you want to avoid the awkward realization you've ignored someone, type a message back, don't open the message to begin with, or use this <a href="http://crossrider.com/install/14917-chat-undetected">Chat Undected extension</a> to regain your excuse for not responding.
We Stalk In Plain Sight
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/okcupid">OkCupid</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/linkedin">LinkedIn</a> are used for notably different purposes, but these social networking sites share a potentially embarrassing feature. Both platforms show who has viewed your profile. When you're checking out someone else's profile they can see you, too, which makes cyberstalking a not-so-anonymous act. In order to privately dig into another person's information, both websites offer premium memberships that'll cost you a few extra bucks a month but will let you check out as many profiles as you want on the sly. Creepy? Nah...
We Tell The World We Love Sideboob News
On a given day, we might read a few news articles online, "Like" a slew of photos on Instagram or listen to a couple of tunes via Spotify. Thanks to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/facebook-frictionless-apps_n_1213970.html">Facebook's Timeline apps</a>, all these activities can be posted to your Facebook profile without the use of a manual "share" button. That's right, all your co-workers know that you've been reading stories about celebrity sideboob sightings. Every app has different preferences, so be sure to read the details of what you're allowing Facebook to publish.
We Live-Tweet Our Commutes
Sometimes we want people to know where we are. And sometimes we forget to turn off Twitter's geo-location feature, which publishes the location where we're tweeting. Too many times we've left a digital footprint mapping out our route to work, along with our favorite coffee shops and our favorite after-work watering holes. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/07/what-not-to-post-on-twitter_n_829903.html#s245051&title=Confessionals_Office_Gossip">Be wary of oversharing</a>. A simple Google search for your name will probably call up your Twitter handle. If you want to limit who can see your profile, go to Twitter's "Settings" page and check the "Protect my Tweets" box, or turn the location feature off (seen in the image to the left).
We Turn Ourselves Into Walking Advertisements
Occasionally, companies will offer customers rewards for "Liking" their brand on Facebook. You might be a sucker for incentives, but don't forget that once you "Like" an <a href="https://www.facebook.com/FacebookPages">organization's Page</a>, you'll receive corporate updates that have the potential to litter your News Feed. Your "Likes" might also show up in your friends' News Feeds. So "Like" accordingly!
We Neglect Our 'Other' Inboxes
When was the last time you checked your <a href="https://www.facebook.com/help/188872764494245/">"Other" Messages</a> on Facebook? This hidden folder displayed in the top left corner of the Messages screen holds posts from people you're not connected with on Facebook. But who remembers to look there? Not us. The same rings true for Direct Messages on Twitter, or InMail on LinkedIn. While these modes of communication can be awesome resources, sometimes we forget they exist.