Aug 25, 2006

distributed snitching: an army of Big Brothers

When I read 1984, I always think, How would they ever find enough people to keep track of everyone's everyday movements? When Winston Smith is exercising, for example, he's reprimanded via telescreen for not dipping low enough on a toe-touch. But it would take thousands of people to watch millions of citizens, wouldn't it? Artificial intelligence isn't yet ready for panoptic prime time.

This article contains the germ of a solution.
An American helped foil a burglary in northern England while watching a Beatles-related Webcam, police said Friday.

The man from Dallas was using a live camera link to look at Mathew Street, an area of Liverpool synonymous with the Beatles and home to the Cavern Club, where the band regularly played.

He saw intruders apparently breaking into a sports store and alerted local police.
Just like SETI@home, farming out computing power to a grid of otherwise idle PCs, Big Brother could outsource its civic oversight to idle surfers with scads of free time. Problem solved. Somebody call Glenn Reynolds.

Update: Welcome, Reason readers. I guess I sounded more serious than snarky. I'm really not that paranoid, promise.

Update Update: Speaking of people with copious free time, how about the Google Earth (ab)users who have to tag everything? (And that means everything.)
People have found and tagged lighthouses, limousines, roller coasters, abandoned nuclear-missile silos, sports stadiums, nude beaches—one man cataloged each and every Starbucks outlet in the world. In the gee-whiz, hobbyist world of GE, that's the equivalent of dunking from the foul line.

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