According to Stuart Armstrong of aeon, not only is a future of complete surveillance from the state unavoidable, we should actually embrace it for the many potential benefits it offers.
Suppose you’re walking home one night, alone, and you decide to take a shortcut through a dark alley. You make it halfway through, when suddenly you hear some drunks stumbling behind you. Some of them are shouting curses. They look large and powerful, and there are several of them. Nonetheless, you feel safe, because you know someone is watching.
You know this because you live in the future where surveillance is universal, ubiquitous and unavoidable. Governments and large corporations have spread cameras, microphones and other tracking devices all across the globe, and they also have the capacity to store and process oceans of surveillance data in real time. Big Brother not only watches your sex life, he analyses it. It sounds nightmarish — but it might be inevitable. So far, attempts to control surveillance have generally failed. We could be headed straight for the panopticon, and if recent news developments are any indication, it might not take that long to get there.
Maybe we should start preparing. And not just by wringing our hands or mounting attempts to defeat surveillance. For if there’s a chance that the panopticon is inevitable, we ought to do some hard thinking about its positive aspects. Cataloguing the downsides of mass surveillance is important, essential even. But we have a whole literature devoted to that. Instead, let’s explore its potential benefits.
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