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Former US National Security agent Edward Snowden made an appearance at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas on 7 January. He was present, virtually, through a robot screen on wheels, called Beam.
The controversial whistle-blower made his virtual appearance at the booth of Suitable Technologies, creators of Beam. Beam (which looks quite similar to Sheldon's mobile virtual presence device in The Big Bang Theory) is a roving robotic screen that comes equipped with wheels. As demonstrated by Snowden, Beam can be used for remote communication and virtual meetings.
In an interview with Peter Diamonds, founder XPrize Foundation and executive chairman of the Silicon Valley's Singularity University, Snowden claimed that Beam was more than just a piece of office technology; it could in fact, also be used to subvert governments. "This is the power of Beam, or more broadly the power of technology," he told Diamonds, adding that: "The FBI can't arrest a robot."
According to a Guardian report, Snowden's virtual interview, ironically placed close to a booth of the US army, explored the power and demand of technologies like virtual reality that allow people to experience the phenomenon of being virtually present in distant places or even in artificial environments. Commenting on the experience, Snowden said: "What if you could commute to work without having to sit in traffic? The US government basically cancelled my passport, but I'm sitting here in Las Vegas with you guys at CES."
The former intelligence agent is reported to have been excited about the various technological concepts being pitched at CES. He claimed that he saw a lot of promise in the various gears being pitched at the show and was enthusiastic about certain aspects of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. However, he seemed cautious when considering the privacy and security of the technological goods that were displayed. "They don't really think of the security of these things very much," he said.
Ben Wizner, Snowden's lawyer, declared that although Snowden was not financially compensated by Suitable Technologies for making an appearance at the event, his client had "benefitted from the technology".