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Over Sousveillance

by brittb on March 26th, 2004


…is nothing like under surveillance.

Joi Ito indicates his support for the new noun, urging us to attend a conference on a major disruptor heading our way:

International Workshop on Inverse Surveillance – April 12

This should be a cool event. I’ll be participating remotely in some way, but if you can make it, you should. I’m on the program committee.

Subject: Int’l Workshop on Inverse Surveillance: Camphones, ‘glogs, and eyetaps

Call for Participation:
International Workshop on Inverse Surveillance:
Cameraphones, Cyborglogs, and Computational seeing aids;
exploring and defining a research agenda

Date: 2004 April 12th.
Time: 12:00noon to 4pm, EST (a working lunch will be served)
Location: Colony Hotel (1-866-824-9330), 89 Chestnut Street, Toronto

Sousveillance is hipspeak for inverse surveillance, which is still too hip to comprehend easily. The workshop’s site explains:

     Surveillance      Sousveillance
     
Sur-veiller is French for “to watch from above”.   Sous-veiller is French for “to watch from below”.
     
God’s eye view from above.
(Authority watching from on-high.)
  Human’s eye view.
(“Down-to-earth.”)
     
Cameras usually mounted on high poles, up on ceiling, etc.   Cameras down-to-earth (at ground level), e.g. at human eye-level.
     
Architecture-centered (e.g. cameras usually mounted on or in structures).   Human-centered (e.g. cameras carried or worn by, or on, people).
     
Recordings of an activity made by authorities, remote security staff, etc.   Recordings of an activity made by a participant in the activity.

Inverse surveillance is the imminent device-driven tsunami whereby we commoners take back our commons. We will be using our always-on videophones to capture the passing scene. The result will be that our blanket, overlapping and corroborating public record captured by our high-res private devices will overwhelm the spotty, lo-res record of incidents captured by so-called public surveillance devices.

Toward the Obvious Republic

The rise of private video capture first captured my attention almost a decade ago. I call the device a PFR, for Personal Flight Recorder. Oddly enough, it ties in to where the Open Republic concept is sure to lead us, once open source tools open the Republic. The PFR is such an important development that it was the basis of an arrogant little series Doc convinced me to put together 13 months ago. What I was seeing everywhere was transparency unfolding where opaqueness has always been the rule.

Prophecy 1
Personal Flight Recorder (PFR)
Prophecy 2
Open Source Hegemony
Prophecy 3
Personal GeoPositioning & Notification
Prophecy 4
The Obvious Society

Prophecy 1 · Personal Flight Recorder (PFR)

This one’s especially dramatic because no one’s talking about it, but it gets the transparency Oscar since the PFR is inevitable, imminent, obvious, and requires no one’s permission. I’m amazed that we’re not addressing this change directly because, when you know the world’s about to change, it’s a good time to re-assess your deck chair arrangement project. 

If you can spell S-O-N-Y, you know what’s around the corner:

  • Picture Phones will become Video Phones.
  • Video Phones will be connected into the wireless mesh.
  • Audio/Video capture will not be obvious to others, being separated from the phone as the microphone is today. We’ll be stealthy without being sneaky.
  • Copyright holders won’t like it, but we will have the right to capture anything we witness.
  • We will replay and share any part of our personal history we choose to.
  • Within n years, more people will have PFRs than not.

That inevitable sequence means that ours is fated to be a pervasively shared culture. Every action by the police will be captured (by their and others’ PFRs) and subject to public review. Any transgression, real or imagined, will be shared and, probably, published. The most noteworthy exceptions to “conventional” mores will receive the most attention. This will have a chilling effect on a wide range of undesirable activities:

  • Crime
  • Media absurdity
  • Assholes
  • Politicians
  • The non-productive Many.

Prophecy 3 • Personal GeoPositioning & Notification

We’ll be capturing the video stream we witness while knowing where we are, where going, how to get there and when. The third leg of this empowerment stool is the logistical equivalent of blogging. Where we are and what we’re seeing will be selectively available, in real time, to anyone we care to share it with. Thereby, our social involvements will escape physical restraints, and moblogging rises to a third dimension.

That is the promise of the PFR equipped with personal geopositioning.

Prophecy 4 • The Obvious Society

All the technical clues point to a transparent society that collectively knows as much about its participants as did the citizens of a 19th century village. The personal means for that transparency is the PFR with geopositioning. The supporting infrastructure will be the wireless mesh of repeating stations that we the people will build without realizing that we were supposed to wait until the telecoms got their act together.

The icing on the transparency cake will be the broad adoption of Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags. These microscopic, essentially free passive transponders will be based on unique IPv6 identifiers numerous enough to tag every item on earth. The tech is being developed for retailers but its significant effect will be that eve
rything in the world will be detectable by your cell phone-turned-PFR.

In an Obvious Society, each of us will have one or more devices capturing the video stream moving past it and aware of the description and history of the material objects it is near. This is a world in which it is absurd to consider stealing a bike or snatching a purse. As noted previously, all this mutual observation and knowledge makes current security monitoring a small and irrelevant part of the collective knowledge of society. Peer Brother makes Big Brother irrelevant and kind of pitiful.

But those technologies describe a transparent society. What’s an Obvious Society?

It’s one where it’s obvious to we the participants how to indicate our needs and receive rewards for our energy, though there are billions of learning cycles between now and then. We’ve all observed how most web sites suck but that a precious few totally nail it. When I stumble on that rare web site that “gets it”, I’m amazed and relieved that there are any at all. Slowly, the way to make choices obvious will prevail. The relentless march toward Open Source software will hasten obviousness in all our choices, because the open source process nibbles away at poor code until what’s left is what we have agreed is correct.

It’s stunning that the PFR is inevitable, imminent and destined to become ubiquitous. Extended by geo-positioning, the wireless mesh and RFID awareness, the PFR will expose what it sees happening around it and what physical items it senses nearby, perhaps including people. It forces us to become what we would have others believe us to be.

The Obviousness Revelation

Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.
                           — Ralph Waldo Emerson

We live in the Age of Spin, where companies and governments publish what we want to hear and then do whatever they intend to anyway. Implicitly, they recognize right action, they just can’t live with it. When we can directly see what happens within view and earshot of each of us, actions merge with how the actors want to appear to others, and each of us gain some of the insight Emerson enjoyed. As our motives become obvious, so do we. But there’s another, equally important form of obviousness—an individual’s proper course of action.

People yearn for obviousness. It’s why we sacrifice our freedoms and personal choice to the yoke of self-serving patriarchs and religious fundamentalism. It frees us from having to think for ourselves enough to make nuanced choices.

  • Why master the subtleties of Evolution of the Species when we can rely on the Book our parents relied on (or thought they should)?
  • Why make our own choices when we can succumb to the seductive appeal of an all-powerful Father like the one so few of us had?
  • Why attempt to decipher the competing trajectories of constitutional guarantees, politicians, generals and demagogues when we can mouth platitudes wrapped in flag and fatherland?

When obviousness is finally embedded into the socioeconomic interface, we can each become masters of nuance rather than slaves of mystery. Isn’t the aim of User Interface Design to allow us to master options more broad and subtle than previously manageable?

The enabling technologies of the Obvious Society, while intriguing, are irrelevant. What’s critical is that it promises to free us from the smoke we blow up each others’ asses and, with a little bit of luck, make “isms” obsolete.

The Open, Obvious Republic

We don’t have to work on the Obvious Republic, Sony and Nokia and all the rest will take care of that. We just have to work on the Open Republic, but we can’t talk about where it’s going without understanding how it will be looking at itself.

All the time.

7:37:50 PM    

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