Chilling New Technologies for Surveillance

Contributed by Ronald Baecker, who is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, co-author of thecovidguide.com, and author of the forthcoming Digital Drea Our Digital Dreams Are Now Nightmares: What We Can and Must Do.

Technologists are creating increasingly more sophisticated digital technologies capable of monitoring us. 

The most mature technology is that of RFID tags. Now as small as grains of rice, RFID tags typically track the location and movement of items through an assembly line, warehouse, store, or library. The tags can also be attached to personal possessions such as clothing, passports, or cash.  RFID tags can be and are implanted in animals in order to track them in the wild. This is not now done to humans, although people may be carrying items with RFIDs and be tracked without realizing it. 

Other location tracking uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) of satellites. It allows mobile devices to know where on earth they are located, and also allows location tracking on those devices, and hence to monitor the whereabouts of a person carrying the phone. A chilling example of this occurred in a political protest in Ukraine in January 2014, when individuals who were in the barricaded city centre of Kiev received text messages saying ‘Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance’. 

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Working at home during and after COVID

Contributed by Ronald Baecker, who is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, co-author of thecovidguide.com, and author of the forthcoming Digital Drea Our Digital Dreams Are Now Nightmares: What We Can and Must Do.

My blog post of February 11 shared the account of four people who, despite COVID, have preserved and in some cases enhanced family connections and communication through the use of teleconferencing technologies. This essay will look at the present and future of distance collaboration for work. 

It has not been easy, especially for couples who both have jobs and who have school-age children at home. There have been severe stresses in maintaining concentration and balancing work time; periods helping children with schoolwork; and time for chores, exercise, play, and being alone. 

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COVID, Accessibility, and Aging-in-Place

Contributed by Margot McWhirter, MA, OT Reg. (Ont.) who is a Consultant on Inclusive Aging, Aging-in-Place, & Accessibility (www.inclusiveaging.com)

Margot, how long have you been an aging-in-place and accessibility consultant?  Please tell us in more detail what you do. I’ve been involved with aging-in-place and accessibility issues throughout my occupational therapy career – so, for over 25 years now. In 2019, I started consulting on a full-time basis. I make it possible for people to stay in their own home as their needs and abilities change by reducing the barriers that limit independence, health and safety. This includes working with people who are planning ahead for empowered, resilient aging. As well, I work with individuals and family caregivers who are facing unexpected challenges in daily routines and activities, due to medical or mobility issues – which can include COVID. Specifically, I assess, recommend and guide people through their options for home modifications, equipment, health care and community services. I also help bridge the gaps within and between disjointed systems, to enable clients to access resources and optimize their well-being at home.

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Physically separated, socially connected

Contributed by Ron Baecker, an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).

My family is widely separated. I live in Canada. My brother-in-law, niece, nephew, and their families are in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; my cousins, their children, and their families are in Argentina, Spain, England, and on both coasts of the USA. Typically, I visit my niece and nephew once or twice a year; I manage a trip to Buenos Aires or Bilbao, Spain, about every 3 years. But not recently. I therefore Facetime with either my nephew or my niece almost every week. We also are about to have our fourth global family Zoom. This started out to celebrate individual birthdays, with great spirit and feeling of bringing the family closer together. The next event will celebrate 3 birthdays — ages 78, 41, and 9 — and a recent birth in the family in London. The 9-year-old birthday event will see us participating in a day-long scavenger hunt. What fun!

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Senior Care Homes Aren’t Ready for the Second Wave

Contributed by Ron Baecker and Gary Feldman

Ron Baecker is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019). Gary Feldman, MD, FAAP, FABMG, is a retired physician who was the Public Health Officer of Ventura County and Riverside County in California for 14 years. They are two of the co-authors of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide.

The COVID-19 Solutions Guide, published in mid-June, described the effects of the first wave of the virus on senior care in North America as follows:

As of early June, over one-third of the known COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been to residents and staff living and working in nursing and long-term care homes. As of early May, a shocking 82% of the known virus deaths in Canada have been to those in long-term care. A Canadian Forces report commissioned by the province on Ontario, released in late May, reported numerous incidents of poor infection control, residents being denied food or being fed improperly, residents being treated roughly, and staffing problems. A flurry of lawsuits is expected. In Ontario, a $50 million suit was filed on May 1, 2020, alleging that one of Canada’s largest operators of senior residences and long-term care facilities lacked “proper sanitation protocols and adequate testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19”. In the United States, nursing homes have sought emergency protection from lawsuits alleging improper care.”

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What’s New in the Second Edition of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide

Contributed by Ron Baecker, who is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).

The Second Edition of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide will be published and available this Friday.

We had not anticipated writing a second edition so soon. Yet events this fall suggested that it was important that we do so. Our goal is to make current the story we tell about the pandemic, the problems it is causing, and the solutions we recommend. What we describe below has happened in part because of the unwise actions of politicians with little understanding or respect for science, and a willingness to sacrifice human life for political ends. Another cause has been the poor judgment of young people, whose natural desire for partying and close physical contact has contributed to a substantial extension of the first wave of the virus. Also, some clergy have placed their insistence on congregate worship above public health advice, adding to the viral spread.

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K-12 Education Pods: Problems, Fears and Options

Contributed Judith A. Langer, who is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Education, a researcher who has specialized in language, literacy, and learning, and one of the co-authors of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide.

August and early September of 2020 were extremely difficult times for everyone who had a stake in education: parents, teachers, school administrators and local officials. In June and July, most people hoped school could resume in the ways it always had and this, I think, may have held them back from creating a fully planned “new normal.” Many early scenarios contained some online teaching in the event that in the future schools might need to be shuttered for periods of time, but they were hoping an overall easing of cases would permit in-class instruction. Most models contained scenarios for all in-class, hybrid and fully on-line to cover the unknown range of needs, but many did not. Unexpected spikes in Covid-19 in heretofore low-case regions escalated uncertainty about what the future might hold. Sizable ranges in the intensity of new cases within states and communities pointed to the need for more locally determined options. 

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Can the internet help people live through a pandemic?

Contributed by Ronald Baecker and Judith Langer.

Ron is an an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).

Judith is the Vincent O’Leary Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Albany, State University of New York and co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide.

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Pandemic models must be transparent and their creators must explain them publicly

Contributed by Ronald Baecker, who is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, co-author of thecovidguide.com, and author of the forthcoming Digital Drea Our Digital Dreams Are Now Nightmares: What We Can and Must Do.

forecasting model is a prediction of how the world will evolve, of what will happen in the future with respect to some phenomena (such as the motion of objects, the financial health of a business) or the spread of an epidemic.

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COVID-19: Computer scientists and CS students can act proactively for good

Contributed by Ronald Baecker, who is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, co-author of The COVID-19 Solutions Guide and author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).

Readers of my blog will recall what I describe as digital dreams and digital nightmares.

Our world has been enriched by digital technologies used for collaboration, learning, health, politics, and commerce. Digital pioneers imagined giving humanity greater control over the universe; augmenting knowledge and creativity; replacing difficult and dangerous physical labour with robot efforts; improving our life span with computationally supported medicine; supporting free speech with enhanced internet reason and dialogue; and developing innovative, convenient, and ideally safe products and services.  Online apps and resources are proving very valuable, even essential, in the era of COVID-19.

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