Is the Future Becoming an Orwellian Surveillance State? Hyundai’s Vision Raises Concerns
In recent years, concerns about privacy and surveillance have become increasingly prominent. Law enforcement agencies, such as the police, access user data shared with tech giants like Google and Facebook, often bypassing constitutional concerns by purchasing the information from these companies. This has raised questions about the potential for a future surveillance state, where individuals’ every move could be monitored. To add to these concerns, Hyundai Motor Group has presented a futuristic concept that could potentially contribute to this Orwellian vision.
Hyundai recently announced the winners of its 2023 Ideas Festival, a program aimed at fostering innovative research concepts from its employees. This year’s theme, “Technology with a Heart that Changes the World,” resulted in the bronze prize being awarded to an idea called “H-SOS.” This concept envisions cars equipped with external microphones that constantly listen for signs of distress, such as screams or explosions. If any such occurrence is detected, the car would immediately activate its headlights, hazards, and horn, while also recording its surroundings using its cameras.
The most alarming aspect of this concept is that it suggests the car would automatically alert the police, providing them with the vehicle’s location and video footage. In cases of extreme crimes or disasters, the car could also notify nearby vehicle owners to stay away from the area. While the technology for such a connected car already exists, it is the implementation and integration that is lacking. Companies like Tesla and Rivian have already introduced similar video security systems that document incidents like vandalism and theft.
This concept seems to draw inspiration from existing technologies that can identify audio or monitor and track vehicles. Applications like Shazam and Google can listen to a few seconds of a song and accurately identify it. Similarly, technology developed by SoundThinking Inc., previously known as ShotSpotter, uses algorithms to listen for gunshots in various American cities. While a human ultimately reviews the audio before alerting the authorities, concerns persist about the technology’s effectiveness and usefulness.
It is worth noting that many modern cars are already connected to the internet in some capacity, enabling them to receive updates via cellular networks or WiFi. General Motors, for instance, has been offering connected services through OnStar for nearly 30 years. This system can track and remotely slow down stolen vehicles, as well as alert the police to their location. While the proposed implementation of Hyundai’s “H-SOS” seems hopeful in terms of building a social safety net to prevent crimes and accidents, it also raises concerns about privacy protections for consumers.
Undoubtedly, technology like this is not inherently nefarious. However, without robust privacy safeguards, it becomes easier for both corrupt governments and companies to surveil individuals with minimal obstacles. As connected cars and digitization become more prevalent, governments may increasingly mandate the inclusion of surveillance systems in vehicles. Regulatory bodies in the United States, for example, have shown an eagerness to explore the implementation of such technologies.
In a recent recommendation, the National Transportation Safety Board suggested that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should require automakers to incorporate intelligent speed assistance technology. This technology would alert drivers whenever their vehicles exceed the speed limit. It is not hard to imagine that, in the name of safety, cars could log individuals’ speed data and automatically alert the police in cases of speeding infractions.
Similarly, federal authorities in the US have asked automakers to explore the integration of technology that can detect and prevent drunk driving. Hyundai Motor Group itself awarded a bronze prize to a concept called “Drunk Hunter.” This AI-based technology aims to predict and prevent drunk driving incidents, as well as analyze real-time behavior related to intoxication.
With the hardware for surveillance becoming cheaper and the advent of advanced connectivity like 4G and 5G, the infrastructure necessary for implementing these surveillance systems is rapidly expanding. This raises concerns that the future may indeed resemble an Orwellian surveillance state, where privacy is increasingly compromised. As individuals, it is crucial that we remain vigilant and advocate for strong privacy protections to prevent abuse in this rapidly evolving technological landscape.