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Participatory Big Brother

Participatory Big Brother
Saturday, October 6, 2007
0 Comments :: Article Rating :: Gadgets, Society, Psychology
 

1. What is it About

The Prime Minister is about to resign. This is big news. It’s probably the first time in history that it happened this way, but he deserves it. The incompetent man made a big mistake. You see, politicians usually underestimate the power of technology and social change and are quite slow to understand the implications of a new trend. He was on a casual tour of universities, to promote his ‘educational reform’. These days everyone is equipped with wearable camera and everything you do and say are pretty much recorded on many machines. A politician has to be extremely careful to make sure what he says is politically correct or he will have to come up with deep explanations later on. In this case, he forgot that his casual remarks about student’s capabilities, income and future may turn out to show how he thinks about the world and how out of step he is with the majority of the people. It was like a window to his soul and everyone saw that it was corrupted to the core.

With the advance of mobile devices, sophisticated sensors all networked together, we will end up with access to a vast amount of information on just about anything in real-time.

2. Where is the Fun

  • Your life can be a lot easier if you know what your friends are up to on Saturday night wandering around a city centre. You also get everyone’s ‘point of view’, which is uploaded to servers automatically and stitched together to form one big story for the night’s activity which everyone can access later on.
  • Imagine being able to see how a place looks like down to the tiniest details even if you haven’t been there. You can just look at its 3D representation painted with latest images and real-time data and get a feel for the place.
  • Everyone will be a reporter and can do the reporting automatically. The captured information is immediately available to be seen by anyone on the planet. Effectively, everyone will be watching everyone else. Everyone becomes big brother.
  • No longer be fooled by digital image manipulation techniques. The only way to tell something is true is to have thousands of pictures taken of it from many angles and provided by many sources. Believe it or not, in a world that everyone carries sensors and cameras with them, logging everything they can see, this will become the norm.

3. What are its Applications

  • Surveillance will be easier than ever before since there will be so many recording devices and cameras monitoring everything and everyone.
  • Access to information anywhere on anything and anyone.
  • If having access to information is power, it will be more powerful if it is shared by everyone and there is more of it.
  • If everyone can watch everyone else, policing the society becomes a lot easier. Crime, especially petty crime, can be significantly reduced. Criminals will not only have to worry about police, but their families and friends and those who care about them. It is difficult to deny a crime if there are many video recordings of it available. This is far more effective than any other threat of punishment.
  • Billions of people with billions of sensors can truly provide a vast amount of information that is recorded and is accessible to anyone now and in the future. With extremely cheap storage devices, everything that is recorded is stored. For the first time in our journey, we will have an unprecedented access to history. Our life will never be lost.

4. How Developed is it

There is so much effort going on in this regard that it is more like a strong trend than a particular technology.

Consider Virtual representation of Earth. Examples are: Google Earth, Google Maps, Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D and WorldWind. These systems are just the beginning of what is about to come. Currently, they show an abstract representation of earth with information layers on top. In the future, they can integrate many real-time data down to the images and 3D models.

An impressive software under development by Microsoft is PhotoSynth which uses a series of images and matches them together to position them appropriately in a 3D space. By only using a number of 2D images, you get to understand the relationship between the pictures better and also get a feel for the environment photographed. This will change the way people use their cameras. Instead of choosing a particular angle and hoping to get the single shot that describes the scene, they will take many pictures of everything. Storage will be cheap and they know they can use software such as PhotoSynth to stitch them all together. A person with a wearable camera that records everything will simply look around at just about everything knowing that the more he looks the better the results will get. Life-loggers in particular will be prime contributors to this system with their real-time continuous feeds.

Certain areas such as tourist attractions may be photographed by many users. These users can upload their images for the collective. The system can use images from many different sources with different camera types to create a realistic representation of the 3D world and integrate it into the global browsers such as Google Earth. Once the system is setup, it will automatically scale up. All you need is people, camera, internet access and photos. You will have billions of eager tourists interested to do something with their latest internet enabled cameras and phones especially if they feel what they do is for a good cause.

Eventually you will be able to see real-time data on a 3D Earth with realistic 3D models of buildings that will look as they would in real life. These worlds will be automatically constructed by stitching the user-submitted information, models and pictures. Hence, they will always remain up-to-date as people take more and more pictures.

5. How Can it be Improved

We still have a long way to go before this social trend becomes a reality. In particular the following challenges exist:

  • Make the system real-time so that as soon as something happens you can see it in the ‘world browser’. True real-time capture of the whole world requires mind-boggling bandwidth, storage and resources. We are nowhere near this but the components are in place and is just a matter of ramping the specs up.
  • Increasing visual and atmospheric realism will help us to place ourselves in other environments without actually travelling to them.
  • The capturing, recording, uploading, storing and serving of data should all take place seamlessly so that more and more devices can be hooked up to the network. It is essential for this to be scalable and it also requires standards so manufacturers can join in and provide their tools and products for use with the global capture system.

6. What Does it Lead to

Participation culture has long been predicted, though as always predicting its social impact in the long run is difficult. Technologies are usually over-hyped for the short term and under-hyped for the long term. With our great ability in mass manufacturing and our eagerness to be online no matter where we are, it is only inevitable to see the rise of a large distributed sensor network that is ready to serve us. Participatory big brother, also known as Participatory Panopticon, will be among us sooner than we think.

This trend will lead to one obvious need. All of this information can be stored, indexed and put online for future use. Considering that billions of us might be interested to use their Life-logging systems at all times, you can easily imagine that there will be a lot of data to handle, organise and search for. Google is still on the right track…

Where there is a need, there will be technology to help us satisfy that need. We need to know more about our environment, need to know it in real-time and need to store it all. How that system may look like in the end, is yet to be seen.

One philosophical question remains. Ultimately, you can imagine a world where everyone can know everything. Imagine a world where all information is available to everyone. Would this make the society a safer place, without corruption and misconduct? No one can get away with it now. Even if someone gets access to information with potential disastrous consequences (such as stealing the design of a bomb), he can be spotted well in advance by the same monitoring system. If the information is available to everyone, wouldn’t the collective society stop him well before it becomes a disaster?

 

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