Policing And Marketing: The Politics Of Anticipation

It seems like hardly a month goes by without at least one new instance of pre-crime style technology being unveiled.  My favourite one of the last few months has been the (admittedly unverified) reports of Brazilian police integrating FIT watch style police image databases into Computer Vision [CV] enabled shades which would enable the more efficient operate snatch squads. The latest ignomious addition is apparently undergoing IRL trials in the states at present. Though it’s easy to make these things into a bogeyman and bracket them amidst other tin hat rantings where they are really useful is as illustrations as to how technology can always be bent to these ends (those conducting exhaustive work helping indiginous tribes to ‘map’ their environments should take note). Its also opens a worthwhile foray into how the policing of population has gone nearly real time, care of the acceleration of data collection (first witnessed in 1801 census) into real time.

obligatory precrime visual signifier

Predictive policing works from the general assumption that while some crimes are random, a lot aren’t. For instance one house in a neighbourhood is burgled and the likelihood of subsequent burgarlies in adjacent houses increases (unless some little tyke happens to have been left on his lonesome over the holliers). Or in a gang related shooting the liklihood of a gun related reprisal also spikes. Staying one step ahead of the bad guys is the ostensible reason for more and more worrying anticipative technologies encroaching on reality. The Met’s recently purchased Geotime software, given that particular units propensity for invading civil liberties is certainly cause for worry. Beneath it all is the power of relational data mining to discover hithertofore unrealised relations and connections.

The Future Attribute Screening Technology currently being trialled by the US Department of Homeland Security is aligned to a much different facet of digital surveillance. The polygraph poltergeist has come clanking out of the closet bedecked in a range of new technological trappings in this latest initiative:

Like a lie detector, FAST measures a variety of physiological indicators, ranging from heart rate to the steadiness of a person’s gaze, to judge a subject’s state of mind. But there are major differences from the polygraph. FAST relies on non-contact sensors, so it can measure indicators as someone walks through a corridor at an airport, and it does not depend on active questioning of the subject.

[via Nature]

Nearly any article which reports on worrying Big Brother style advancements falls over itself to reference Minority Report as Nature is guilty of here. In truth Geotime is much closer to Minority Report (with its emphasis on prediction) while I feel that FAST has more prominent echoes of Big Brother. Thankfully Nature is much more on the money detailing the dubious science underpinning the field trials (gold star). Alas Nature is unfortunately light on the technological basis of this technology but I do wonder whether it shares hallmarks with the science behind CCTV tracking which aims to identify when someone leaves a bomb at a train station or when someone looks likely to commit suicide. These are essentially gait analysis tools, not unlike the mooted Chinese biometric gait identification tool and they definitely rank as something with the potential to be more nuanced than the polygraph.

The troubling implications of all this are not what is most interesting here to be honest. Its the way that the latter attempts to quantify malicious intent. They are trying to work out what people are trying to do before they do it:

Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists: “I believe that the premise of this approach — that there is an identifiable physiological signature uniquely associated with malicious intent — is mistaken.”

I’d imagine most conceptions of said physiological signature went the way of the Dodo shortly after the polygraph was finally deemed inadmissable.

But I digress. There ,ay not be a physiological signature for malicious intent. You can bet your bottom neuropolitical dollar there is currently research into locating the neurological signature more readily associated with malicious intent (the need for physical proximity on even the most low res EEG scans likely means this system won’t be as intrusive as FAST has the potential to be) Trying to anticipate preexisting intent before it makes its presence known in the world in a disastrous manner is one area where the politics of anticipation finds itself applied. Another realm where the politics of anticipation is pertinent is within neuromarketing. The difference is within this realm is to anticipate what you want before your conscious self is even sure you want it. Think a Google instant which could capitalise on the (alleged) half second delay between desire and conscious recognition of this desire. The above point about the intrusiveness of brain measuring devices remains pertinent. Its worth stressing that the most useful tool for correlating emotional states remains the fMR, something even less portable than EEG. But I imagine it won’t be long until EEG, fMRI or perhaps even brain implants are correlated with existing modes of desktop biometrics (eye tracking, gait, posture [latter two completely possible with kinnect]) to see what states of mind are most vulnerable to anticipative pre empting.

It could all seem rather imposing couldn’t it? Should we take a leaf out of D&G’s books, opine that “there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons“? The net art and software artist communities have done interesting speculations around surveillance society (should note that per Philip Agre’s analysis we need to be mindful that the emphasis is shifting from surveillance to capture in rather signifcant ways) for some time. For it’s aesthetic spirit Adam Harvey’s CV Dazzle Make Up certainly merits a mention (pictured above).

So too does Mark Shepherd’s ‘CCD-Me-Not’ umbrella from his ‘Sentient City Survival Kit’, the use of an umbrella to scramble to Computer vision algorithms used in a certain form of subway CCTV. One area which holds a lot of potential for resistance to this onset of anticipative politics is the quantified self. Problematic though the concept of self – knowledge through numbers may be it does provide a means for severely disrupting the basis from which these models draw their power. That is it makes data particular to an individual . Web browser plug ins which correlate googles moves across your Desktop monitor with DIY eye tracking (see GRL’s Eye Writer), open source EEG (xxxxx were at the fore on this but the ubiquity of Mindscan hacking tutorials means such knowledge is as good as common place) or DIY biometrics (a kinnect could easily afford you insight into how your attention as registered through gait & posture) afford means for our own attention rates to be monitored. One could either monetarily enrich oneself (a cooperative of quantified selfs whoring their anonymised data) or use it to change how you view your desktop and subvert ergonomic plays to your neurocapital. Most of all though once the evidence is out there in a sizeable bulk of data that each persons relationship to their computer interaction is individual it will through a spanner into the truth/proof derived from the models upon which Google et al currently operate upon.

~ by Stephen Fortune on June 9, 2011.

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