• Charlie Stross, The panopticon singularity

    The 18th century utopian philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s #panopticon was a #prison; a circle of cells with windows facing inwards, towards a tower, wherein jailers could look out and inspect the prisoners at any time, unseen by their subjects.

    Though originally proposed as a humane experiment in #penal reform in 1785, Bentham’s idea has eerie resonances today. One of the risks of the #technologies that may give rise to a #singularity is that they may also permit the construction of a Panopticon society — a #police #state characterised by #omniscient #surveillance and mechanical law enforcement.

    • Today’s camera networks are hard-wired and static. But cameras and wireless technology are already converging in the shape of smartphones. Soon, surveillance cameras will take on much of the monitoring tasks that today require Police control centres: using gait analysis and face recognition to pick up suspects, handing off surveillance between cameras as suspects move around, using other cameras as wireless routers to avoid network congestion and dead zones. The ability to tap into home webcams, private security cameras, and Neighbourhood Watch schemes will extend coverage out of public spaces and into the private realm. Many British cities already require retail establishments to install CCTV: the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2001) gives the Police the right to demand access to electronic data — including camera feeds. Ultimately the panopticon society needs cameras to be as common as street lights.

      (Looking on the bright side: London Transport is experimenting with smart cameras that can identify potential suicides on underground train platforms by their movement patterns, which differ from those of commuters. So p2p surveillance cameras will help the trains run on time ...)