The future of surveillance
As I already mentioned, technological development are encouraged in first place for military and security purposes and only afterwards, usually, arrives a sort of democratisation of the technology, which is then applied also to other features of life.
In order to speculate about the future of surveillance it’s important, firstly, to focus on the proper meaning of the word surveillance, without considering what it’s currently used for and making our automatic connections.
a watch kept over a person, group, etc., especially over a suspect, prisoner, or the like:
The suspects were under police surveillance.
continuous observation of a place, person, group, or ongoing activity in order to gather information:
video cameras used for covert surveillance.
attentive observation, as to oversee and direct someone or something:
increased surveillance of patients with chronic liver disease.
Surveillance. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc.
I cancelled on purpose the examples given by the dictionary, since those are the common visions of surveillance, the first ideas which would come up to our mind about this theme. However, if we focus particularly on the second and third definitions, the term means literally: to observe continually and attentively in order to gather information.
Now, considering all the new technological tools of observation and monitoring, thinking about their probable developments, we can easily conjecture that in a not so far future, will be possible to have under some camera eyes nearly every centimetre of the Earth.
So the question is, which forms can surveillance (thinking at the original definition of the term) take? In which fields it might be used and how?
To speculate on the future, the first step is to look at the present. What do we observe continually and attentively in order to gather information? Or what we would like to observe?
Timothy Mack, president of the World Future Society, has clearly a positive view about the benefits brought by surveillance systems applied to different fields than security.
“Actual epidemiological behavior (e.g., the spread of influenza) can also be tracked, based on electronic movement and communications patterns using smartphone information. Even obesity is becoming somewhat predictable through social patterns. Accordingly, public health, urban planning, and marketing strategies might be guided by examining behavior relating to the use of smart tech.
In the same manner, disaster-relief monitoring could be shaped using mobile-phone tracking and reporting (during the last Haitian earthquake), and geo-tagged media could be used to enhance public safety at a variety of levels (as after the Boston Marathon bombing).”
In particular he address four areas which would enormously benefit of surveillance technologies: health services, social services, environment monitoring and Smart Cities.
Surveillance for Health
Nowadays surveillance is already used for such work as epidemiological* oversight by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
*epidemology: science that studies the patterns,causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations (Wikipedia)
While, medical testing without doctor visits are currently in development, some innovative smartphone apps allow the management from distance of medical assessments such as sonogram and blood work. The future of health could be governed by a telehealth, allowed that people would accept computers continually tracking blood pressure, glucose levels. Patients could be monitored 24/7 with much smaller efforts than nowadays, there will be reduced cues at hospitals, no double visits, less doubts and less space for incorrect diagnosis.
Surveillance for Social Services
Regarding social services, one of the best example is the CottageMED, some sort of high-tech portable hospital able to monitor the life of the person who lives inside, designed for elderly people. On the same line many others structures and objects could be realized for disable, elderly or other people with problems.
When will be possible to monitor every point of the Earth, we would get a greater and more detailed number of information regarding such factors as light, temperature, humidity pathogens, pesticides, and so on, which will allow us to improve environment safeguard measures and explore new possibilities.
Traffic monitoring is one of the main uses of surveillance systems at the moment. However, when surveillance systems will be furtherly developed and able to monitor all the factors of the city, more statistics and information will be available, which consequently will ease smarter and more appropriate city planning.
Systems like LIVE Singapore! are the future of the cities, where it will be possible to track transports, services like trash pickups and home delivery or utilities like water and energy.
In all these future developments, the technology which will dramatically increase the power of surveillance is surely the Internet of Things, its connectivity and its ubiquity. Therefore, from cameras, which are somehow the icon of surveillance, surveillance will move to the sensors or better to different senses sensor, since cameras are visual sensors after all. Technological development is clearly moving towards the multi-sensorial and so is doing surveillance.
However, there might be something scary coming. An idea which is spreading without a firm belief (yet), new technologies implanted straight in our body, tattooed on our skin and so on. This would bring us back to the most common idea of surveillance concerned to preserve security, public surveillance. If these technologies ever existed, well, I guess it will be pointless to even name the word privacy anymore.
– Privacy and the Surveillance Explosion, by Timothy C. Mack – The Futurist, January-february-2014, vol. 48, no.1
– Pioneering the granny pod: Fairfax County family adapts to high-tech dwelling that could change elder care, By Fredrick Kunkle – The Washington Post