In the series "Visions," science fiction about the very latest research will be paired with analysis looking into the facts behind the fiction. The goal is to marry ripped-from-the-headlines science fiction with analysis into the possibilities hinted at by new discoveries.

I curse it now, but it was there for anyone to see. Bringing strangers together via the Internet for strange missions in flashmobs logically gave rise to flashlaw. The cops started broadcasting pictures of missing children and persons of interest in crimes on every mobile device they could, with bulletins targeted to local areas as needed. A modern version of sticking photos on milk cartons or wanted posters on telephone poles.

The flashwatch messages didn't cost anything — customers and telecommunication companies were even given small tax rebates for taking part. If anyone saw anything, they could snap pictures and upload them to the police with a GPS location tag, and facial recognition software would help filter out the deluge of noise from cranks as well as well-meaning but mistaken onlookers. Even if most people didn't see anything, it was better to try than not on the off chance it might work.

How I damn the law of unintended consequences. Namely the rise of private flashwatch apps. Illegal apps. Criminals anonymously posting images of witnesses, snitches, rivals, complete with bounties. Militias and extremists blaring out images of their enemies on hit lists.

What happens when you can generate flashmobs to hunt after anyone?

That's why I'm on the run now.


Flash mobs already exist. And social media was recently used to hunt down five supposed jewel thieves in five different cities around the world as part of the Tag Challenge, organized by the U.S. State Department to see how social media can help federal agencies track real criminals. It was modeled on the Red Balloon challenge in 2009, set up by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The FBI already has a mobile phone app detailing its top 10 most wanted. Hit lists put up on the Web to hunt down a group's enemies already exist as well.

Don't see this little tale as a long time coming.

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