Neatly combining the topics of a number of my previous posts, namely the surveillance society, computer games, and Foucault, a new Internet ‘game’ is about to be launched that enables members of the public to win cash prizes by spotting criminals in ‘real-life’ video surveillance footage.
Although the United Kingdom has one of the highest proportion of video surveillance cameras in the world, the sheer amount of footage generated currently means that any criminals filmed are unlikely to be observed by any human camera operator, thereby escaping detection.
As described in Foucault’s book ‘Discipline and Punish’, this new scheme mirrors the design of Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’, a proposed prison in which inmates are potentially under constant observation, yet are unaware whether they are actually being observed at any particular moment. Consequently, those under surveillance must behave as if their every action is observed, thereby subjecting themselves to discipline instead of having it forced upon them, and so becoming the instruments of their own control.
The widespread connectivity provided by the Internet similarly enables numerous members of the public to co-operate in tackling somewhat more altruistic large-scale projects, exemplified by the collaboratively produced encyclopedia Wikipedia. Likewise, the open-source software movement is able to work together to develop free alternatives to commercial products, despite being geographically distributed. These include operating systems, office productivity suites, web-browsers, and for those of you currently involved in academic writing, reference managers.
This use of human ‘distributed processing’ mirrors the design of super-computers, in which a large number of relatively low-powered processors concurrently tackle small sub-parts of a much larger and more complex task. Once again, the Internet can be key in facilitating the necessary interconnections, as illustrated by the SETI@home project, where members of the public donate the spare computing power of their home PC to help the search for extra-terrestrial life.
Story from the Daily Mail
Sunar, D. (2009). Suggestions for a New Integration in the Psychology of Morality