The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

We Like to Watch

Ubiquitous sensors and massive interlinked databases are propelling us into the post-Orwellian era. Are we ready to know everything about each other?

11 min read
Illustration: Jeff Grunewald
Illustration: Jeff Grunewald

Webcams today can take you to the intersection of 34th St. and Broadway in New York City, to a checkpoint at the Finnish-Russian border or, for that matter, to the shower stall of a pert college girl making a fast buck from fee-paying voyeurs. But, with the advent of better search tools, more-comprehensive public databases, and pervasive sensors, we’re moving beyond monitoring pedestrian activities and indulging prurient cravings. Soon we’ll be able to tap into the life of anyone we encounter with a simple query, knowing all the while that our lives are exposed to the same scrutiny.

Technology’s inexorable advance has brought the world’s democracies to a crucial juncture: will next-generation citizens keep an eye on each other in a golden “age of transparency,” as famously imagined by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke in his 1988 novel, 2061: Odyssey Three? Or will the tools of surveillance and data analysis be wielded exclusively and with impunity by governments and corporations?

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Paying Tribute to 1997 IEEE President Charles K. Alexander

The Life Fellow was a professor at Cleveland State University

4 min read
portrait of man smiling against a light background
The Alexander Family

Charles K. Alexander, 1997 IEEE president, died on 17 October at the age of 79.

The active volunteer held many high-level positions throughout the organization, including 1991–1992 IEEE Region 2 director. He was also the 1993 vice president of the IEEE United States Activities Board (now IEEE-USA).

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Robot Learns Human Trick for Not Falling Over

Humanoid limbs are useful for more than just manipulation

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot with a malfunctioning leg supports itself with one arm against a wall

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Humanoid robots are a lot more capable than they used to be, but for most of them, falling over is still borderline catastrophic. Understandably, the focus has been on getting humanoid robots to succeed at things as opposed to getting robots to tolerate (or recover from) failing at things, but sometimes, failure is inevitable because stuff happens that’s outside your control. Earthquakes, accidentally clumsy grad students, tornadoes, deliberately malicious grad students—the list goes on.

When humans lose their balance, the go-to strategy is a highly effective one: use whatever happens to be nearby to keep from falling over. While for humans this approach is instinctive, it’s a hard problem for robots, involving perception, semantic understanding, motion planning, and careful force control, all executed under aggressive time constraints. In a paper published earlier this year in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, researchers at Inria in France show some early work getting a TALOS humanoid robot to use a nearby wall to successfully keep itself from taking a tumble.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Accelerate the Future of Innovation

Download these free whitepapers to learn more about emerging technologies like 5G, 6G, and quantum computing

1 min read

Looking for help with technical challenges related to emerging technologies like 5G, 6G, and quantum computing?

Download these three whitepapers to help inspire and accelerate your future innovations:

Keep Reading ↓Show less