Merry Christmas; I got you a panopticon

Paul Raven @ 16-12-2009

Two quick links; I’ll leave you to do the math yourself. First up – ‘smart’ CCTV system learns to spot suspicious behaviour with a little help from its human operators:

… a next-generation CCTV system, called Samurai, which is capable of identifying and tracking individuals that act suspiciously in crowded public spaces. It uses algorithms to profile people’s behaviour, learning about how people usually behave in the environments where it is deployed. It can also take changes in lighting conditions into account, enabling it to track people as they move from one camera’s viewing field to another.


Samurai is designed to issue alerts when it detects behaviour that differs from the norm, and adjusts its reasoning based on feedback. So an operator might reassure the system that the person with a mop appearing to loiter in a busy thoroughfare is no threat. When another person with a mop exhibits similar behaviour, it will remember that this is not a situation that needs flagging up.

And secondly – a facial recognition door lock system retailing for under UK£300.

… can store and register up to 500 faces thanks to an internal dual sensor and two cameras. This, claims the manufacturer, “allows it to establish an incredible facial recognition algorithm in a fraction of a second”. Importantly, the system also works at night. A 3.5 inch screen and touch keypad are also included.

The system can also be used to record attendance in an office. There’s a USB and Ethernet port so that managers can download or keep track of who arrives and leaves the office when.

I have the sudden urge to talk at length to people about the findings of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Crime may not pay, but perhaps watching for it might

Paul Raven @ 07-10-2009

"one nation under cctv" by BanksyAs much as things may be tough in the States right now, at least you can all get a good laugh watching the UK slide towards becoming a pseudo-totalitarian panopticon state. [image by JapanBlack]

Via Cheryl Morgan comes news of the latest iteration of our enthusiastically participatory society of snoops and spies – crowdsourced CCTV crimespotting, with fabulous monetary prizes to be won!

The cameras’ owners will pay a fee to have users watch the footage. The scheme, Internet Eyes, is being promoted as a game and is expected to go “live” next month with a test run in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Subscribers will be able to register free and will be given up to four cameras to monitor.

Eventually the consortium behind the idea hopes to have internet users around the world focused on Britain’s 4.2 million security cameras, waiting to see and report a crime in return for cash prizes.


Subscribers will try to collect points by monitoring cameras in real time. If they see anything suspicious, they will click a button to send a still picture and text message to the camera’s owner.

The owner will then send a feedback e-mail to the person reporting the incident, indicating whether there has been a crime or suspected crime.

Users will be awarded one point for spotting a suspected crime and three if they see an actual crime. They can also lose points if the camera operator decides that the alert was not a crime.

Good grief… it’s much like the crowdsourced surveillance of the US border with Mexico, only with cash incentives. And the thing is, recent research suggests that cash incentives are actually counterproductive in situations where our ethical stance plays a part [via TechDirt]:

incentives affect what our actions signal, whether we’re being self-interested or civic-minded, manipulated or trusted, and they can imply—sometimes wrongly—what motivates us. Fines or public rebukes that appeal to our moral sentiments by signaling social disapproval (think of littering) can be highly effective. But incentives go wrong when they offend or diminish our ethical sensibilities.

This does not mean it’s impossible to appeal to self-interested and ethical motivations at the same time—just that efforts to do so often fail. Ideally, policies support socially valued ends not only by harnessing self-interest but also by encouraging public-spiritedness. The small tax on plastic grocery bags enacted in Ireland in 2002 that resulted in their virtual elimination appears to have had such an effect. It punished offenders monetarily while conveying a moral message. Carrying a plastic bag joined wearing a fur coat in the gallery of antisocial anachronisms.

However, no one in the upper echelons of the business and gubernatorial spheres seems to have taken any notice of this, or of any of the other psychological research of the last few decades that has continually flagged up the same problem… I guess that a clear conscience is no suitable incentive for removing one’s own pre-existing incentives package. Go figure.

Watching the watchmen watching us – metasurveillance in the UK

Paul Raven @ 16-04-2009

bank of CCTV surveillance camerasDubai may be Ballardian, but my own country of residence is becoming increasingly Orwellian – so much so that to say so is becoming a cliche that even the most conservative of media outlets seem happy to use. Here’s the latest development in the Surveillance State: a CCTV system for watching CCTV operators. Seriously. [image by eduardoizquierdo]

The system uses webcam-style cameras trained on the irises of the CCTV operators. From this, software works out where the operators are looking as they stare at each monitor – and the areas they have not been paying attention to. From this it creates a video of what they missed, for them and their bosses to watch at the end of their shift.

If we can’t trust the CCTV operators to catch everything, what’s the point in having them? If you can make a system that can automatically determine what a fallible meatbag passed over, why bother having the meatbag as middleman at all – just repurpose the same algorithmic prowess and make the panopticon fully automated.

Then the next step is obviously to deploy robot policemen, so that when they run amok and start beating peaceful protestors you can blame a software glitch (or maybe anarchoterrorist hackers OMFG!) and be saved the embarrassment of having the whole business dragged through the courts. And hey, why stop there? Let’s automate the judicial process as well – the less time, expertise and effort spent on controlling the proles the better.

If you’re determined to drive all the way to hell, you might as well step on the gas instead of gawping at the bloody scenery.

New UK smart CCTV cameras detect ‘precrimes’

Paul Raven @ 29-11-2008

"one nation under cctv" by BanksyLiving in a small city like mine, it’s not often one gets to feel that one is at the cutting edge of an emerging future society.

So how lucky for myself and the other residents of the over-stretched city of Portsmouth that we are the first town in the UK to be under the observation of Phildickian ‘smart’ CCTV cameras that are programmed to flag up an alert when they observe ‘suspicious behaviour’ that might indicate a crime is about to be committed.

You know, those sure-fire indicators of criminality… such as standing still for a while, or stopping to talk to someone. I would like to take this opportunity to praise the glorious leadership of Airstrip One for going to such efforts to ensure that any and all double-plus-ungood actions can be eradicated before they even have a chance to occur!

If anyone needs me, I’ll be typing a letter to the German Embassy requesting political asylum. [image by JapanBlack]