Future Tense, one of the revolving features on this page, presents stories and
essays from the intersection of computational science and technological speculation,
their boundaries limited only by our ability to imagine what will and could be.
Little Brother is Watching
In a world of technology and fear, the public gets to know
what it wants to know… and more than it can possibly digest.
a Wet, BUSy highway at dusk. A pickup
truck is tailgating you. Its front bumper
pushes up to within six feet of your car.
The driver glares, though he can easily
pass on either side. You’re in his way.
Your bumper camera is activated by
a proximity sensor and snaps a high-res
image of the truck and its license plate,
then sends it to the highway patrol. Your
car’s equipment is law-enforcement
certified, the evidence is clear, and the
driver of the pickup is issued a ticket
based on four such incidents within a
10-minute period. A record of aggressive driving can result in hefty fines and
even a suspended license. Some mu-nicipalities offer the equipment for free
to drivers in their jurisdictions. The impressive revenue stream can be useful
in communities where angry voters no
longer want to pay taxes.
These are often the same folks
most interested in locking ‘em up and
throwing away the key—until they
themselves are snagged and fined.
The whole city and most of the highway system will soon be monitored
by millions or even billions of small,
cheap, hi-res cameras, some embedded in paint and masonry—all feeding
into servers and computer hubs that
constantly process imagery, looking
for suspicious or illegal behavior.
The computers pass along potential
items of interest to tens of thousands
of human contract operators employed
at centers around the nation, where
they compare possible “hits” to recent
911 calls and criminal databases and
may pass them along to FBI and Homeland Security hubs, where they are further analyzed and refined.
One of the most important developments in surveillance will be facial-recognition software capable of comparing blurry videos taken from many
different cameras and angles, as well
as still photos. Computer enhancement will soon be able to approximate
3D scans from 2D sources. Still, even
with improved software, fewer than
one in 10 identification hits will be accurate. Computers still find it difficult
to work with faces. Even many humans
aren’t very good at the art of comparison and identification.
A woman walks to her neighbor-
hood market. A man follows her to the
corner, dogging her every step. Built
into the woman’s cellphone is an ag-
gression-warning monitor she triggers
with a finger or a word. It activates a 4K
video camera in her spex—what look
like glasses and may in fact contain
prescription lenses. As the man ap-
proaches, a video is recorded—surpris-
ingly detailed, even in low light.