Google's Jaw-Dropping Vault of Medical Records, DNA, Robotics, Drones and More
Never before has a single corporation – Google – reached so deeply into our lives.
With its projects in DNA data, biometrics, drones and robots, Google acts more like a military agency than an Internet search engine giant. Just like the National Security Agency (NSA), Google grabs headlines for collecting data on people in the U.S. and around the globe.
Google is again making headlines for its latest privacy-busting move. This one involves setting up a sweetheart deal with the National Health Service (NHS) in England. Through the deal, the Royal Free NHS Trust will allow Google to use “artificial intelligence” to access and analyze the health records of millions of people, New Scientist reported.
About 1.6 million patients who pass through the Trust’s three hospitals every year will have their records turned over to Google’s DeepMind for “analysis.” Records can include patient status, visitor logs, daily hospital activities, and data from the intensive care and emergency departments.
The explanation for all of this, of course, is improving patient health. But how else could the information be used? The UK move begs the question of whether Obamacare patients and others in the U.S. will soon find their private medical records opened up for scrutiny.
It’s one more way that Google, governments, and private data brokers are up to their eyeballs in spying on us.
Every piece of information collected from the public is potential money in the bank. Without our consent, our personal data is shared or sold to the highest bidder. One of the biggest data brokers in the U.S., Acxiom, is privy to terrorist watch lists, private health information, bank account numbers, religious affiliations and other lifestyle information, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported.
But the technocrats are gathering far more than our telephone calls, emails, webcam images, bank statements, medical reports and Facebook posts. The scope of it is mind-boggling.
Scary Scope of Work
A worldwide database of DNA is being created, with Google at the helm. Google’s chief engineer wants to merge people with computers and robots to create “immortal” avatars. Experts working for Google, NASA and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are building a computer so advanced; it takes only seconds solve problems that would take an average computer several centuries to figure out.
These massive public experiments are being used to define us, track us and ultimately, control us.
Google’s quest to buy up intelligence- and military-related companies appears unequaled, even by Facebook. Many of the acquisitions and partnerships are listed on Google’s public research blog.
Now whether you believe their work is pure evil or it’s a gift to humanity, one thing is certain. Google controls a vast majority of the world’s technology and information.
And it’s positioning itself to control even more.
Your DNA on Google
In 2011, Google Ventures, an investment arm of Google, teamed up with several companies to help fund and develop the world’s largest database of DNA. A programming interface, Google Genomics, was designed for the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, of which Google is a member.
The United States National Library of Medicine defines a genome as “an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.”
Your DNA holds billions of pieces of data about your physical traits, your likelihood of developing certain illnesses and even your behavioral traits. In the right hands, the information could be used for curing and treating a myriad of illnesses and diseases. In the wrong hands, DNA information could be used for discrimination and creating social stigmas for people with undesirable traits. For example, employers might use DNA data to make decisions on which employees to hire or fire.
Federal laws exist to prevent DNA discrimination. But like any form of discrimination, proving it is difficult.
Under the Global Alliance, genomic and other information will be shared on a computer cloud system, with “research and healthcare communities,” according to Nature.com. This system is being created under the guise of finding cures for diseases and unearthing new medical treatments.
A lot of space is needed to store DNA – about 100 petabytes for the genome of just one person, according to Nature.com. (One petabyte is equal to 100 million gigabytes). Yet the sheer volume of DNA data being collected is only expected to grow. Genetic testing “will become a routine part of health care in the future,” according to the National Human Genome Research Institute, a federal agency.
One of the companies working with Google Ventures, 23andMe, offers ancestry information gleaned from the DNA in a sample of spit. Participants supply a spit sample which is shipped off to a lab and the results are returned a few weeks later. The catch? The information is rolled into the DNA database.
In addition to showing your ethnic background, the test by 23andMe claims to tell how much Neanderthal blood you have. Then it compares the amount of Neanderthal you have with the rest of the people in the database. Some scientists classify Neanderthals as a subspecies or a species separate from humans.
The company’s terms of service for DNA donors states:
“Genetic information you share with others could be used against your interests.”
DNA testing by 23andMe was initially offered people information on whether they were susceptible to certain kinds of diseases and illnesses. Also included in the terms of service is the statement:
”By providing any sample, you acquire no rights in any research or commercial products that may be developed by 23andMe or its collaborating partners.”
The Food and Drug Administration put a stop to that portion of 23andMe’s work in 2013, claiming it constituted medical testing without oversight by a physician. Today, a notice at the top of 23andMe’s website states it provides ancestry-related genetic reports and “un-interpreted” raw genetic data. In other words, they’re still in the business of collecting DNA.
Even if they weren’t, hospitals have collected millions of DNA blood samples from babies when they were born, as reported by the Washington Post and others. Michigan has a DNA depository in Detroit filled with millions of DNA samples. In 2009, the New York Times reported the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had already gathered DNA from millions of suspects.
We should all be asking where the DNA data is being stored, who has access to the information and how it is being used.
“There has not been a good national discussion about the use of these samples,” Jeffrey Botkin, a pediatrician and bioethicist at the University of Utah told the Washington Post in 2009. “Genetics is an area that touches a nerve. The public is concerned about massive databases.”
Well, now we have one on a global scale.
Google’s chief engineer, Ray Kurzweil, coined the term “singularity” – merging humans with robots and machines. He believes computers will be conscious and able to think on their own as early as 2029. By 2045, people will upload the content of their brains to computers so they can create digital immortality, Kurzweil says.
The ultimate goal is to create artificial, living avatars of people. This will allow an elite group of people to “live forever.”
Computers and robots, powered by artificial intelligence, will be just like us, only faster, smarter and more efficient, according to Kurzweil and other like-minded researchers. Heralded in the media as geniuses and visionaries, these scientists and researchers dream of a future where computers and humanoid robots essentially run the world.
They render us obsolete.
The website for the 2045 Social Strategic Initiative represents a group of scientists and others concerned with creating artificial intelligence. Featured on the site is an “immortality button” that allows people to create a “personalized, immortal avatar.”
By signing up for the project, you can agree to have your head transplanted onto a robot after you die. The exact wording on 2045’s website is: “Full body prosthesis, i.e., an Avatar A or superior robotic body onto which one’s head is transplanted at the end of the healthspan of one’s biological body.”
This technology is in the laboratory stage, with more experiments needed, according to the website. It could be fully implemented within five to seven years.
Google’s Kurzweil was a speaker at the 2045 Social Strategic Initiative held in June 2013 in New York City. In a video for the conference, Kurzweil said,
“We’re going to become increasingly non-biological, to the point where the non-biological part dominates and the biological part is not that important.”
Already, Google has a computer software version of the human brain that is able to learn and think on its own. Google Vision, is a computer system that “currently has 16000 microprocessors equivalent to about a tenth of our brain’s visual cortex,” according to betanews.com.
“Google Vision looked at images for 72 straight hours and essentially taught itself to see twice as well as any other computer on Earth,” betanews.com reported. “Give it an image and it will find another one like it. Tell it that the image is a cat and it will be able to recognize cats.”
Scientists are scrambling to develop programs that can do even more. In addition to recognizing images, artificial intelligence systems are able to translate speech. Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon.com and others are also hiring top experts to work on artificial intelligence projects.
Computers powered by artificial intelligence can recognize patterns and analyze data, giving them the ability to “think” independently.
Google’s artificial intelligence work falls under Google X, a semi-secret division whose full details are not revealed to the public. Under the artificial intelligence umbrella, Google acquired include DNNresearch, Inc. and also purchased DeepMind Technologies.
Google is a partner in the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab hosted at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley in California, just down the street from Google headquarters. The lab houses a quantum computer from D-Wave Systems, and the USRA (Universities Space Research Association). The program is a joint effort by Google, NASA and the CIA’s In-Q-Tel program.
The computer is touted on Google’s Research Blog as a means to process information to learn how to cure diseases, create new environmental policies, study climate change or build a better search engine algorithm.
That’s not all it does.
The D-Wave is “a new type of computer called a quantum computer that’s so radical and strange, people are still trying to figure out what it’s for and how to use it,” according to Time Magazine. “It could represent an enormous new source of computing power – it has the potential to solve problems that would take conventional computers centuries, with revolutionary consequences for fields ranging from cryptography to nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals to artificial intelligence.”
A computer like that just might outsmart every person on the planet.
“It may sound like a movie plot, but perhaps it’s even time to wonder what the first company in possession of a true AI (artificial intelligence) would do with the power that it provided,” writes Antonio Regaldo, an editor for MIT Technology Review.
MIT Technology Review predicts Google will use the technology to equip robots with human-like intelligence. It makes sense, since Google is gobbling up some of the most advanced robotics companies on the planet.
Google’s military robots
In December 2013, Google purchased Boston Dynamics, a company with a history of military contract work for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The government agency conducts advanced research projects for the U.S. Department of Defense. Boston Dynamics’ robots were primarily designed for military functions. Specifically, they hunt for and find humans.
The top robot of Boston Dynamics’ program is Atlas, a robot that looks like something straight out of the science fiction movie, Terminator. Boston Dynamics calls the creation “one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever built.” Atlas has a laser range finder to determine the distance of an object. Its human-like hands can use tools. Atlas also runs up and down stairways and teeters its way over a pile of uneven rocks.
Another foreboding creation is Big Dog, a four-legged robot with a fifth limb that can grab and fling a 35-pound cinder block up to 17 feet. Big Dog also marches across ice and hilly terrain while carrying a 350-pound load.
Atlas, Big Dog and their counterparts look downright imposing and unwelcoming. Not to worry, though, Google has a bot for that. Some of Google’s partners make robots designed to work alongside people.
Here’s are some robotics companies working with Google and what they specialize in:
- Redwood Robotics – Robotic arms
- Indstrial Perception, Inc. – 3-D vision guided robots for manufacturing and logistics.
- Schaft, Inc. – Built a Two-legged robot that won DARPA’s Robotics Challenge Trial.
- Meka Robotics – Robots designed to live with or work alongside people. They can show facial expressions.
- Holomini – Creates high-tech wheels for omni-directional movement.
- Bot & Dolly – Robots that specialize in automation.
By buying Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed amount, Google has delved into the world of jet-sized drones that soar 65,000 feet above the earth. Titan’s drones can take off, fly and land themselves; and they stay aloft for up to five years, The Washington Post reported.
Google is billing the drones as part of a project to bring Internet services to rural or impoverished areas – about 2/3 of the planet – that currently have no access. During natural disasters, deforestation or other events, the drones will also “collect images” from around the world.
The drones are augmented by something called Project Loon. On the Project Loon website, Google explains how it works. The balloons will “float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather….People can connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from this antenna up to the balloon network, and then down to the global Internet on Earth.”
Conceivably, the system could also be a way to account for, spy on and scoop up data from virtually every person on the planet. No one would be outside the scope of Big Brother.
In a video about Project Loon, Google states the balloons can only pick up signals only their network. Otherwise, it states, “the technology wouldn’t work.”
Remember Google Street View? Under the program, Google uses cars equipped with special cameras to capture images for its online mapping programs. But an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission found the cars were extracting and storing data from private wi-fi networks. Initially, Google denied the claims. During the court proceeding, however, it was learned that several Google engineers had actually laid out plans for extracting the data.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the New York Times in 2012, “This is what happens in the absence of enforcement and the absence of regulation.”
Drones, humanoid robots and Loon balloons have the same regulatory problems as Street View cars. For example, there is no specific agency to oversee drones or activities taking place tens of thousands of feet above the realm of traditional aircraft.
Your face is a hot commodity, even if you’re not beautiful or handsome. It’s all about positively identifying you, everywhere and anywhere you paste your face online.
Google is no stranger to this type of biometrics. In 2011, the company acquired PittPatt (Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition), a technology company that designs programs to find faces and images in videos. Months prior to the acquisition, Eric Schmidt, currently the executive chairman of Google, said he was concerned the technology could be used for good or bad reasons.
Speaking at the “All Things Digital D9” conference in California, Schmidt said Google decided to discontinue the project. He used the example of how an ‘evil dictator’ “could use facial recognition to identify people in a crowd and use that technology ‘against’ its citizens,” Homeland Security News Wire reported.
Even so, Google eventually moved forward with facial recognition programs.
Google Glass resides somewhere between total creepiness and high-tech heaven. The device looks like ordinary glasses yet comes equipped with computer-like powers that operate through a touch pad and voice commands.
Google glasses are capable of recording video and voice, surfing the Internet, taking pictures and even “exploring” nearby surroundings by showing landmarks, nearby restaurants and other places of interest. Information is projected on the glasses, just outside the wearer’s normal line of vision.
Reviews for Google Glass are mixed, to say the least. Fearing for the privacy of their customers and employees, some businesses are banning the glasses before they are even released to the general public.
Tech writer Sarah Slocum was assaulted at Molotov’s bar San Francisco in February for wearing Google Glass and showing people how they work. Two women confronted her and a man ripped the glasses off other face, apparently because they believed they were being recorded, according to KPIX Channel 5.
Google Glass technology is still under development and is expected to be available for public release by the end of 2014.
Also under development are contact lenses with built in cameras, a product billed as a bionic eye system for the visually impaired. The contacts would also be able to stream images to a smart phone or other device, according to ExtremeTech.com.
ExtremeTech.com praised the Terminator-like abilities the contacts could provide: “… the more exciting possibilities include facial recognition (a la Terminator), and abilities that verge on the super or transhuman, such as being able to digitally zoom in and infrared thermal night vision.”
The article went on to sing the possibilities of giving police officers contact lenses with x-ray vision, so they could detect concealed weapons, sort of like a TSA body scanner patrolling the streets.
A contact lens to monitor glucose levels in diabetic patients is also being developed. At the moment, only Google really knows how the contact lenses will gather, monitor or report this type of medical information.
Google Smart Grids
In addition to all of this, Google wants be a middleman for the utility companies. Nest Labs, makers of a “smart” thermostat, was purchased by Google for $3.2 billion in January 2014.
This “smart” thermostat is promoted as a way to regulate a home’s cooling and heating systems and reduce energy costs. Oh, and the Nest thermostat will also track and record your usage data.
Forbes.com called Nest “an energy management system powered by Big Data.”
None of this should be surprising. In 2012, then-CIA Director David Petraus bragged about the government’s ability to “spy on people through their dishwashers.”
“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,” Petraeus told Wired.com, “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater super-computing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”
Nest will start off by taking over a home’s cooling and heating activities for several hours at a time.
“As part of the program, Nest will temporarily take over the heating and cooling of homes for a set period, perhaps a few hours, and customers are notified that an ‘event’ is set to happen sometime beforehand,” Forbes.com noted.
Once considered the realm of conspiracy theorists, the smart energy grid is now an admitted part of a surveillance system. A German smart-meter firm, Discovergy, was able to monitor power data to the point where it could tell if people were at home, away or sleeping, Matt Liebowitz wrote for NBC News. It could tell what they were watching on TV.
Further, it ties into Agenda 21, the United Nations’ push to lead energy control and “energy conservation” on a global scale. But who gets to decide how much energy usage is enough or too much?
Nest thermostats are already coming home to roost in retailers across the nation.
Data being collected today is being used to predict the future.
Staffers at Behavio and Google are teaming up to use smart phone data to analyze the lives of users. Other people will access the data, too. Programmers will be able to create journalism tools to “uncover trends in community data,” The Verge reported.
Access will occur through an open source platform called Funf. In a study, Funf used smart phone data to predict someone was getting ill before they even noticed any symptoms. It also tracks where you are and whether you are walking, riding a bicycle or driving a car. It knows what you are saying online and what software applications you used in the past hour. A listing of friends and your “talking levels” is included, as well.
There’s no telling who else besides developers and users will have access to the information. It would no doubt be valuable to advertisers or even governments that want to track people and predict behavior.
That might explain why Google and the CIA in 2010 offered financial backing for Recorded Future. The company analyzes “tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come,” Wired.com reported.
For example, if a protest or other public gathering is on the horizon, Recorded Future would predict it.
These kind of cross-over roles and partnerships with Google the and government are almost too many to mention. They include:
Google Earth, Keyhole, Inc., a geospatial data visualization program; Visible Technologies, a social media monitoring program; Intellipedia, a software reporting program for intelligence agents are just a few examples. Additionally, former intelligence employees have quit their jobs with the government to go to work for Google. Among them are former In-Q-Tel Director of Technology Assessment, Rob Painter, who became the Senior Federal Manager at Google and Darpa director Regina Dugan, who became a senior executive at Google.
Still, Google vehemently denied any cooperation in theNSA spying scandal delivered to the world by Edward Snowden.
Part of a prepared statement made by Google in June 2013, states:
“…..we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government, or any other government, direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.
“Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period.”
The impact of the partnerships between Google, the government , data brokers and the medical industry is far-reaching.
Google, the world’s largest search engine company, has tremendous power over the information we see online. The search engine decides which results appear at the top of the search list – the area people are most likely to click on. It determines what organizations or writers are newsworthy and renders a decision on whether they can appear in Google News.
Now we have quantum-computing and quasi-military activities being housed under the umbrella of Google, a private corporation far removed from serious public scrutiny.
Certainly, we need new medical and technological advances, as well as new ways to make sense of our online lives. Used ethically, robotics and advanced computing could change the world for the better.
But are the advances really intended to improve our lives and if so, at what price?
Our society seems so willing to sell out almost anything – to anyone – to get the latest and greatest electronic status symbol. We cast off our privacy concerns to watch the latest videos online and to be seen or heard on social media websites.
“Who cares if they collect my information?” is the mantra. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”
If you must, go ahead and completely trust Google. After all, “Don’t be evil” is the company motto.
Just remember one thing.
Before the devil tried to become God, he was an angel, too.
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