I read an article today from the New Standard about – amongst other things – how marketing companies are using sites like MySpace to build profiles of users. Since I wrote about ‘social sorting’ in an earlier entry on the surveillance society, I’ve been wondering what the future will hold when this sort of thing becomes more widespread.
Consider a future where you can potentially be watched and tracked automatically when outside your house; when your purchases, the things you watch on tv, the internet sites you visit are logged and contribute to a profile of you; etc. At the moment, the technology is pretty crap. Facial recognition software only works 70% of the time I seem to recall. The statistical models which companies use to profile customers are still relatively simplistic. Despite this, some of them have surprising predictive power. Think about how Amazon will suggest books to you that are exactly the sort of thing you’d like to read. The technology will only get better. Facial recognition will get better, and will be coupled with other technologies, like those that recognise people by the way they walk, those that recognise their voice patterns which will be picked up by systems of microphones if the police get their way. At some point, artificial intelligence will get to the point when it can actually do something, and the possibility of every one of us having an individual AI policeman watching our every move becomes a possibility.
Combine this with research by government, police and businesses about how to manage and control individuals and groups. Suppose that the police could predict exactly who would go to a certain political protest based on what they’ve been to before (or even what products they buy for that matter), and could pre-emptively arrest them.
My question is – what does the future hold in this respect? The surveillance society report makes a sort of prediction, but it’s quite short term and based on already existing technology. Even that is scary enough, but what happens when they actually get it working well?
Has sci-fi or anything else for that matter addressed this question? Not much comes to mind. There’s 1984 of course, and occasional films like The Minority Report. Often these are based on technological premises only though, and require romantic and implausible means for people to defeat them – V for Vendetta comes to mind. I’m maybe even more interested in what happens when research into how we behave allows even greater control of us. Is it possible we could find ourselves in an authoritarian society that it is not possible to escape from, like 1984? In the past I’ve thought not, but I have been reconsidering recently.