Friday, December 24, 2010

Surveillance Considered as a Time Machine

It would be both interesting and educational to be able to view my own past, to see how my life looked without the filter of memory. It is too late for me, but in the not very distant future the surveillance technology discussed by David Brin in The Transparent Society and by me in Chapter 5 of Future Imperfect may let other people do it.

Imagine a future where everything that happens in public spaces, and perhaps much in private spaces as well, is routinely recorded, saved and searchable. In that future, the man of thirty gets to watch himself at fifteen on his first date, judge how reasonable or otherwise the quarrel that ended a friendship at eighteen was, see how his parents treated him and he them, with perhaps useful lessons for bringing up his own children. At fifty he gets to look back at what he was doing when he was thirty, recognizing faults or errors invisible to him at the time.

It works for shorter time periods too. After the political argument or lovers quarrel in which my behavior was, as I saw it, entirely reasonable and the fault all on the other side, I get to rerun an outside view—and perhaps see how my voice tones, gestures, facial expressions conveyed a very different message than I chose to remember.

Google's usenet archive already provides a pale ghost of such an opportunity, limited to a string of text messages. The future may expand that to full motion, living color, perhaps even 3D.

12 Comments:

At 9:42 PM, December 24, 2010, Blogger blink said...

Then we will want to establish just when we and others learned what from watching old events. Soon we will be watching ourselves and others as we watch ourselves... and then watching ourselves watch ourselves watch ourselves, etc.

What fraction of time spent watching the past is acceptable before an "experience machine" becomes an attractive option?

 
At 11:25 PM, December 24, 2010, Blogger Jonathan said...

Shudder. Some of my past behaviour is embarrassing enough even as dimly remembered. I don't think I'd want to see it again.

By the way, your idea is reminiscent of Isaac Asimov's 1956 short story, 'The dead past'.

 
At 10:11 AM, December 25, 2010, Anonymous RKN said...

Passive review may be novel for some, but I think such data might be most useful to predict the future of individual actors, or aggregates. You were previously talking about how to incorporate irrational behavior to improve economic models.

 
At 10:31 AM, December 25, 2010, Anonymous Rex Little said...

Jonathan, I immediately thought of the same story. I was going to mention it, but you beat me to the post.

 
At 2:18 PM, December 25, 2010, Blogger Jonathan said...

Asimov used a chronoscope to view the past. What you've pointed out, and it's quite interesting, is that we could achieve a similar effect with conventional modern technology, no chronoscope required.

 
At 4:59 PM, December 25, 2010, OpenID hudebnik said...

Yes, I thought of the same story. IIRC, Asimov makes two points in the story: first, the dangers of being obsessed with the past, and second, the use of the time machine for current surveillance. David has reversed the latter, but the former issue is the same.

 
At 12:14 AM, December 27, 2010, Blogger Michael said...

You may well have created a paradox. If you know that in the future, you can see your past, will it change your actions in the present.

 
At 2:06 AM, December 27, 2010, Blogger Milhouse said...

Have you read Rob Sawyer's Neanderthal series? In his fictional Neanderthal society, everyone is required by law to carry at all times a recording device which transmits everything he does to a central "alibi archive". The recordings are accessible only by the person himself at any time, and by law enforcement to the extent necessary to investigate a crime. Nobody else is allowed to view the recordings without the subject's permission.

 
At 3:32 AM, December 27, 2010, Blogger Hernan Coronel said...

Are we psychologically prepared for this kind of permanent review of our lives by ourselves and others? The memory filter is part of the way we see ourselves and how we choose to remember (or not remember) our actions whether right or wrong. It'll be interesting how human beings cope with this kind of tech.

 
At 8:55 AM, December 27, 2010, Anonymous Giles said...

Charles Stross wrote an interesting article for the BBC that touched on this:

Using nanoscale diamond as data storage, six hundred grams (about one and a quarter pounds, if you're my generation) can store a lifelog, a video and audio channel, with running transcript and search index, for six billion human beings for one year.

Sixty to a hundred kilograms is all it takes to store an entire 21st Century of human experience.

 
At 9:01 AM, January 06, 2011, Blogger rctlfy said...

I had this very conversation when I was in London last month. The proliferation of cameras could be used to optionally record a tourist's experience-imagine registering upon entering a country to have a GPS recording of your vacation?

 
At 3:41 PM, January 24, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought Halperin's Truth Machine was interesting, but it felt somehow implausible. But a transparent society might get us to nearly the same end result.

 

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