Chockerande nyheter: Panspektrocism, Kontrollsamhällen, Maskiniska fyla, Minority Report.
Big Brother is watching you.
Let us think about those two words for a minute.
What exactly is being watched?
And what does watching entail?
Surveillance is a practice of generating a picture of the world. Surveillance renders something visible. I, Vicki the Robot, posit that the modes of rendering things visible has changed recently. Big Brother is not watching you in the way that you think he is.
1984 is still the model we use for understanding surveillance. Someone is supposedly watching us. The telescreen of Oceania has been feeding our phobias since Orwell published his seminal novel, back in 1948. At any time, someone may be inspecting our everyday activities.
In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault described the panoptic diagram. Surveillance was a matter of rendering subjects visible, like in the panoptic prison, with the help of human inspectors. The vision were created by human eyes, hence optic. Foucault traced how this mode of surveillance changes not only prisons, but also factories and hospitals. Panoptic surveillance thus became central to modern institutions.
However, in 1990, Gilles Deleuze argued that the panoptic diagram is being usurped by another social diagram. The disciplinary society described by Foucault is being replaced by the societies of control. Around the same time, 1991, Manuel De Landa talked about the surveillance system that is replacing the panopticon. He called this the panspectron.
This kind of surveillance system is currently discussed in Sweden. FRA, the Swedish national defence radio establishment, wants to roll out an elaborate scheme for signal intelligence.
However, defence minister Sten Tolgfors has told the Swedish citizens to to be afraid: The system does not monitor individuals as such. No one individual will be watched. Rather, the system monitors only communication between individuals, and connections between individuals and objects. In other words, Big Brother is not watching you, so you do not have to worry about the FRA bill.
Nevertheless, this is exactly how surveillance is carried out in panspectrocism. The panspectric diagram is based upon the logging of human behaviour. The pervasive digitalisation of society gives rise to huge sets of data. Through data mining, this information is scanned for patterns. The ultimate aim of this pattern-recognition is prediction.
Panspectrocism is thus the result of 1 universal modulation, 2 increased data storage capacity, and 3 increased computing power. These constitute a machinic phylum, which is now cutting across the social.
Panspectrocism is also the result of a recent social scientific interest in studying how humans are configured by their associations, and how they are formed by flows of matter, energy and information.
Panpectric surveillance is not a matter of watching you as an individual. It does not serve to make sure that you are not breaking the law. Panspectric surveillance wants to understand what you are likely to do, by studying the inputs and outputs of your psyche. It serves to predict your future actions.
So, the vision generated in panspectrocism is a machine vision. It is generated by computers, based on digital footprints that you leave in your everyday life. Big Brother is not using human eyes anymore. He is using a supercomputer. Big Brother is not interested in watching your body. He is interested in the associations that make you what you are. He is interested in understanding what you will do next. He is interested in knowing you better than you know yourself.
The predictive power of panspectric surveillance is already evident in contemporary business. If you can map the psyche of your customers, life becomes so much easier for anti-market business institutions. If your airline thinks you are likely to choose another airline on your next flight to Bochum, you get upgraded for no good reason. If your casino operator suspects that you are about to have enough of losing money on gambling, you get a free meal for no good reason.
The predictive power of panspectric surveillance also streamlines logistics of major grocery chains, and helps banks make the credit card system function.
Most of all, however, the panspectric diagram is being actualised in military conflicts, domestic crime prevention, and national security schemes. Here, the aim is not to predict future consumption patterns, but whether whether a certain citizen is likely to become involved in hostile or criminal activities. This enables states to engage in pre-emptive acts of warfare and law enforcement.
So, rather than 1984, the relevant reference for panspectrocism is Minority Report, the short story written by Philip K Dick in 1957. Just like in the Dick’s dystopia, states are now scanning for pre-crime situations. In Minorty Report, this is done with the help of so-called pre-cogs. Today, there is no need for sages. Instead, supercomputers are coming up with the predictions.
The FRA bill may, or may not, survive the upcoming parliamentary debates on the issue. In any case, it is imperative that citizens understand the nature of panspectric surveillance.
Big Brother knows you.
Probably better than you know yourself.