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Participatory Panopticon Update
Jamais Cascio, 7 Mar 05

Omron.jpgSeveral stories popped up over the last week of relevance to the continued evolution of the participatory panopticon:

• Camera and network-enabled mobile devices can be a real thorn in the side of people in positions of authority, as they allow the surreptitious capture of evidence of abuse. This is as true for local authorities as it is for national or global powers, especially when those who are victimized by the powerful tend to have their complaints ignored. An example from just last week: a New Jersey high school student used a video-enabled mobile phone to capture images of a teacher screaming at students for not standing during the national anthem, then pulling the chair out from under one of them.

Unsurprisingly, the student was suspended and the board of education plans to ban cell phones from the school, refusing to state whether the teacher will be punished in any way. Not that it will stop kids from bringing them in, or using them to make a record of abuses.

• Japanese company Omron claims to have developed a face recognition system for camera phones. It doesn't try to recognize every face it sees, though, only one: the owner's. The face recognition would be used in place of a password to get access to personal information.

Camera equipped mobile units enabled with the 'OKAO Vision Face Recognition Sensor' require no additional hardware. Users register their own face image to their unit with the unit's camera. To use the unit, the user simply takes his or her own photo. The 'OKAO Vision Face Recognition Sensor' will automatically detect the user and unlock the unit. The identification process takes less than a second from snapping the photograph. Further, their is no need to adjust the camera position when taking the photo. If the face is included in the photo, the sensor will detect the owner automatically.

Accepting for a moment Omron's claim of 99% accuracy, the implications are interesting. If a single face can be recognized, a small number of "trusted" faces could, as well (given sufficient memory and processing on the phone). This could lead to a primitive sort of "user recognition," with different levels of access available depending upon who the phone has recognized as using it. Eventually, as the technology develops, and as we move towards having "always-on" mobile cameras, it's conceivable that the system could be given an image and told to watch for that face, alerting the user when the given person has been noticed.

• Finally, Howard Rheingold's latest piece for The Feature takes on cameraphones as personal storytelling media. Howard notes that, as a medium, the use of cameraphones is still evolving, and we're still trying to figure out their place in society. As Japan has had cameraphones since 2000, they're a bit further along that particular social curve:

Okabe also noticed an additional use to the capture of mundane images: material for conversation. In Japanese, the material people collect to share conversationally with friends is called "neta": "a new store seen on the way to work; a cousin who just dropped out of high school...an odd statue sited in town." Cameraphones "provide a new tool for making these everyday neta not just verbally but also visually shareable." In contrast to the traditional camera, "cameraphones capture the more fleeting and unexpected moments of surprise, beauty and adoration in the everyday...Users are still working out the social protocols for appropriate visual sharing, but seem to take pleasure in the adding of visual information to the stream of friendly and intimate exchange of opinions and news."

As we become more accustomed to using cameraphones to capture the "fleeting and unexpected," the more they will become integrated into our social and political discourse. The fleeting and unexpected need not be limited to moments of odd beauty or amusing juxtapositions; we'll use cameraphones to capture accidents and abuses, too. As increasing numbers of people have these devices and (more importantly) use them as part of their day to day conversations, we'll find that every public disaster or delight will be witnessed and recorded from multiple vantage points, giving us a permanent record of the events of our communities.

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Comments

Isn't "face recognition" deeply flawed, though?

Wouldn't you just have to show the camera a photo of the person's face to bypass the security measures?


Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 7 Mar 05

Face recognition that identifies everyone it sees is definitely flawed. Recognizing a single face should be a much simpler task.

This technology might be fooled by a photograph, but it might not -- the way light reflects off of a 3D object differs considerably from reflections from a flat surface.

Clearly, that will need to be one of the first real-world tests.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 7 Mar 05

Just wanted to comment on how interesting this idea is of the "participatory Panopticon." Hope you know that the original Panopticon was conceived as the world's most efficient prison. As referenced in Foucault, it's a comment on big brother surveillance and self-policing. Chilling stuff.
I hope that you're right, and a certain equality will come when we watch them as carefully as they watch us, but frankly, I'd prefer neither to both.


Posted by: Justus on 7 Mar 05

Justus, you should check out some of the earlier pieces on the participatory panopticon -- I'm well aware of the tension between good and evil uses.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 8 Mar 05

So you are...
Thanks for the link, as a new reader, I'm still finding my way through this site. -J


Posted by: Justus on 9 Mar 05



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