Project Hydra is terminated

Projct Hydra is about “keeping an eye on (traffic) offenders in a distributed way”. Its mandate: The world’s first crowd-sourced social experiment using distributed, intelligent, cloud-connected devices to track traffic offences in real time.

After months of hard work and a product ready to launch, I took the difficult decision after much soul-searching not to proceed with Project Hydra.

There were multiple reasons for this:

Early this year (2017) I turned into a digital rights activist, and started working with advocacy groups on digital ID, biometrics & privacy. I began to understand the peculiar conundrum that modern societies are dealing with:

Digital systems have civilization changing potential, they are harnessable for greater good of mankind and progress. At the same time they are easily gamed, they destroy privacy, and allow for an exceptional level of tracking by commercial interests, usually without consent.

Worse, they can be easily misused by government and institutions (the “state”) by deployment for targeted surveillance and control of ordinary people, residents, citizens, visitors, etc.

Worldwide, governments are not the solution, they are the problem.

With this deeper understanding, I realized that the Hydra Project actually arms the state against citizens, and is an “offensive” solution. I.e. it allows the state to find and fine offenders.

I no longer wanted to be the creator of such an “offensive” solution, rather I wanted to return to the core ethos of Kumogado, and create “defensive” solutions. Passive technology solutions that help reduce the incidence of crime against individuals, rather than actively find citizens who are violating traffic rules, and enable the state to profit off them.

Making a case for private safety

Private safety is to living what breathing is to life

Wow, I invented that heading all by myself and it does make perfect sense. Just like there can be no life without breathing, there cannot be living without a strong sense of safety. Its the most essential element that every human being needs to thrive and prosper. Without being guaranteed a sense of private safety, there is nothing one can do. Those who are familiar with the famous theory in human psychology, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, would recognize “safety” as the bedrock on which all humanity rests. Once the base bodily functions are taken care of, bang, we come to safety and security.

The reason that life goes on as it does, the reason that humanity has made such amazing progress, and today we are inventors, and thinkers, and artists, and creators is because we no longer need to rely on “might is right”. Societal changes, laws, policing etc over the last 2000 years have truely gives us a sense of safety and security, so that humanity has moved up the value chain, as it were.

But perhaps when one merely scratches the societal facade, one may well discover that all notions of safety and security are mostly an illusion. Like the locks on your doors, or the metal detectors in hotels.

Imagine living in a conflict zone. Ah well, the gentle reader reading this article cannot surely imagine. So the point is moot. But visualization in books and movies and a vivid imagination might help one realize for a moment how deeply traumatic the experience may be. Imagine being faced everyday with threats to survival, life, limb, property, savings, etc. The gentle reader reading this article surely does not face this on an everyday basis. So lets leave this gory scenario aside for a moment.

Lets look at our everyday lives and everyday spaces. Everyday spaces are increasingly unsafe. We know this. We see it happening all around us, its in the news, in our face. Everybody knows someone who has been the victim of an incident, or a crime: crime against women & children, theft, robberies, assault, road rage, molestation, reckless driving, harassment, hate crimes, ragging, domestic violence, the list is truly endless. Two thousand years of civilization cannot stand against matchstick passions. It takes very little provocation, and usually mostly none at all to become a victim of a crime.

So while we don’t live in conflict zones, any number of incidents do happen, and the psychological effects may very well be the same! People who undergo any sort of incident may be emotionally affected and traumatized.

CCTV CCTV everywhere, not a criminal in shame; when I need help, all the laws are in vain

There, I’ve done it again! I’m on fire today.

Perhaps this is the crux of what we are attempting to solve. The vision or long term goal is to

Reduce the incidence of crime against individuals, esp those naturally at risk: women, children, activists & minorities

The challenge before us is not to invent still more laws or create needless meaningless slogans like “more governance, less government”. (As a side note what is really means is to allow political parties to get away with hundreds of crores in anonymous donations, or to shield government employees from being prosecuted.)

The challenge before us is not to create mass surveillance mechanisms, and arm the state more and more as an intrusive orwellian big brother who knows and sees everything and does nothing.

The challenge before us is to find simple, effective, low-cost, unobtrusive, privacy-respecting ways and means to keep ourselves, the mango people, safe and secure from everyday harm.

The challenge before us is to create private protection systems and networks that would augment and complement those setup by the state, civic authorities and police.

The challenge before us is to find a way to hold society and the guardians of the law accountable for our safety and security, and to create the necessary conditions that the laws of the land can be enforced in an efficient, timely manner. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.

What better way than to harness regular consumer technology at our disposal to achieve this remarkable goal?

How is this different from “public safety”?

In a nutshell, public safety is a subject matter of the state, while we are directly responsible for our private safety. The state looks for mass mechanisms to extend some kind of safety and security illusion to society, and quite obviously has neither the interest not the funding to protect each individual. To give it the benefit of the doubt, no state can ever do this.

Matters are far worse in a populous country like India, where the state has abdicated all responsibility towards its citizens. It would be no less than a joke to imagine that the state has really any interest in protecting the common person. It is extraordinarily self-evident to the mango people that money, political connections, acts & threats of hooliganism, etc offer far more safety and security to the perpetrators than policing and laws can ever offer to the victims. I would do the intelligent common man a disservice to pontificate any further on this line of thought. Enough said.

So lets give so called “public safety” a wave while we pass it by.

End note

When I was growing up, we had a image with a proverb framed and hung on a wall somewhere, and it went something like:

God could not be everywhere so he created mothers

So on the lines of that, here’s my own pot luck proverb for the day

The guardians of the law cannot be everywhere, so we created Kumogado