DSP technology is changing the world--and not always for the better. As engineers, what is our responsibility for the downside of DSP?
Last week VoIP service provider Skype was out of service for two full days. The outage seriously disrupted the business and personal lives of millions of users. The loss was also a setback for the entire VoIP industry. Companies and consumers considering moving to VoIP are likely to be more cautious about making the switch after witnessing such a massive failure.
One of the more amusing reactions to the Skype debacle has come from conspiracy theorists. According to their theory, the outage was cause by the installation of CIA wiretapping software on Skype servers. This seems like a rather unlikely explanation for the outage, but it does bring up another serious problem, namely, government wiretapping.
Despite the concerns of civil libertarians, the US Congress just passed a law expanding the NSA's ability to perform warrantless wiretapping. What's more, this law may have inadvertently enabled the government to perform other types of spying on US soil.
And wiretapping is hardly the only government intrusion to worry about. Surveillance cameras are rapidly sprouting up across the US and the rest of the world. Some of these systems are designed with features to prevent misuses such as peering into bedrooms. However, the use of these systems is largely unregulated, leaving lots of opportunity for abuse. This is particularly disturbing given that some of these systems are seen as an ineffective waste of money.
All of these developments reminded me that DSP technology has a dark side: When things go wrong, it can lead to inconveniences, intrusions, and worse. As a DSP engineer, I feel a responsibility to guard against these dangers. At a minimum, I feel that I should spread the word about the dangers I perceive—hence this blog.
However, I don't want to get too carried away. Last week I saw an article blaming Hollywood for scientific ignorance. I agree that the "science" in movies is usually wrong to the point of absurdity, but so what? The plot and dialog in most movies are also absurd. I seriously doubt that moviegoers think anything they see on the silver screen is realistic. And if they do, they can always get the record set straight on Mythbusters.