Posted by: Ben | August 29, 2008

Massively Parallel Surveillance Processing

I’m reading Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs, which, although it was published in 2002, is still fresh and full of ideas that are still cutting edge. That says something about his reach into the future.

I can tell by the number of pages in his book that I’ve dog-eared that I love the book. In fact there should be some sort of metric: how many pages in a book did you dog-ear/write notes on? Does that correlate with how much you enjoyed it or found it instructive? Something to think about for galapag.us.

Anyway, near the end of the book he talks about the effects of everyone transmitting live audio and video feeds all the time. “Big Everybody”. He quotes Steven Feiner, who says:

“Massively parallel image and audio processing could make it possible to reconstruct a selected person’s activities from material recorded by others who have merely seen or heard that person in passing.”

Interestingly on the next page, Rheingold writes about Michel Foucault, who wrote that power “reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives.”

What interests me is that Microsoft has been beta testing an extremely popular project called PhotoSynth, which reconstructs a real-world object (like a cathedral) into a 3D model using photos that people have taken of it.

So this stuff is coming soon!

But imagine you’re walking down the street all day shopping. Then the NSA decides it wants to reconstruct what you did today, and somehow flags you in a bunch of different peoples’ datastreams, assuming they are all recording video of what they’re seeing or even just what’s around them all day. You get tagged and a video is reconstructed from different people’s perspectives of what you were up to.

What are the implications of this ability? Is there a way to make this useful towards peoples’ privacy or by freeing up the technology from use just by intel agencies and companies? Are there positive things that can come out of this?

Is there a way to incorporate reputations into a system that allows only certain people to help in streaming you or viewing your stream?

David Brin talked about making surveillance available to everyone — we all are allowed to watch, and not just closed-circuit private/government cameras. We can monitor law enforcement and criminal acts, which is good.

But we still have to exert our political force upon the government, should it use physical force to coerce or control us or take away our abilities to surveil and collaborate. We also need to protect peoples’ privacies from stalkers.

I guess the problem is that this future is inevitable. So how are we going to deal with it?

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