The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Amazon Rolls Out Face Recognition to Police

Our panopticon is on track:

Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces, according to Amazon.

Amazon is marketing Rekognition for government surveillance. According to its marketing materials, it views deployment by law enforcement agencies as a “common use case” for this technology. Among other features, the company’s materials describe “person tracking” as an “easy and accurate” way to investigate and monitor people. Amazon says Rekognition can be used to identify “people of interest,” raising the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments — such as undocumented immigrants or Black activists — will be seen as fair game for Rekognition surveillance. It also says Rekognition can monitor “all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports,” at a time when Americans are joining public protests at unprecedented levels.

This is only one piece of the full panopticon toolkit, of course: Various technologies which allow for seeing through walls will mean that eventually the authorities and most large corporations will know or be able to know everything you do, all day, no matter where you do it, but it is still part of an escalation.

China has particularly been a keen adopter of this sort of technology (though not from Amazon, obviously).

The core problem authorities are trying to solve here is part of the surveillance paradox: In the past, surveillance societies have just been too costly. When you need to have people watching other people, it takes too many people, and the watchers aren’t productive.

The second part of the paradox is harder to deal with, which is that surveillance societies tend to become uncreative: When you know everything you do or say is being judged, you tend to internalize the external rules for safety.

This surveillance doesn’t have to be governmental, of course, a measure of creativity in America shows a decline in children from the 80s onwards, almost certainly due to the widespread adoption of helicopter parenting and the tethering of children, so that they do not control their own time but are constantly under adult supervision.

This is only a real problem, however, societies exist which are more free than yours. If everyone is living under a surveillance society, then there is no competitive issue: Everyone has drones (er, human drones.)

But elites are also betting that mechanical drones, AI, robotics, and so on will reduce the need for humans to be creative: Machines will do that, and do it in ways of which their masters approve. Much safer than letting humans be creative.

Ironically, it may be that widespread social collapse due to various environmental issues may be our best bet at avoiding our masters desire for a steady state authoritarian dystopia.

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  1. jrkrideau

    A basic problem may be the false positives and false negatives.

  2. Hugh

    Maybe it should be called Reichonition. Whenever I hear claims about systems like these, I wonder what the rate of false positives/false negatives is. I also wonder about the system requirements. How big does a photo file have to be for Wreckognition to work? To what degree?

    But in a lot of ways, all this seems superfluous. So many people have smartphones and these can show not only where you were at any particular time but how you got there and where you went afterwards.

    I do agree that no legitimate social purpose is served by such systems. But it is unsurprising, given google, Facebook, and Microsoft’s rampant and often malevolent data mining. I don’t know enough about Apple to comment on it.

  3. different clue

    Perhaps human drones could be a single word. Humandrones. Or maybe humandroids.

  4. Herman

    The sad thing is that so many people think surveillance tech is a good thing because it will be used to fight crime, terrorism, etc. I see people getting whipped into a frenzy over terrorism and mass shootings even though Americans are much safer now than they were 30 years ago.

    People should be more worried about the tech developments that you mention but they are not because they think that as long as they are good, law-abiding bourgeois types none of this will ever harm them. They think the only people who will be hurt are criminals, political radicals, terrorists and poor people.

    The American habit of punching down will be the end of us. It all goes back to the culture of meanness that you wrote about in 2016.

  5. Synoia

    I predict a great future for Guy Fawkes masks.

    And anonymous phones …

  6. Mike
    Another, similar, view on the future of society.

    There’s no doubt that, under the banner of ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’, all of these technologies will be used to make life extremely difficult for the majority of people unless they comply.

  7. someofparts

    Well, this is how bad things already are.

    If our rulers can already do this kind of thing without a panopticon, what horrors do they plan for us that they think they need even more control?

    Too bad we can’t go extinct without taking the rest of the mammals with us. Imagine how much better this planet would be for the rest of creation without us on it.

  8. Steeleweed

    @Synoia: – faces are not the only thing subject to recognition. How you walk and gesture are pretty individual also and have been used to establish identity, although there probably isn’t much of that in the databases, compared to images.
    In some ways I’m glad to see the Establishment’s reliance on hardware – the bigger and more complicated anything becomes, the more points of failure and the more vulnerable to disruption anywhere in the process. In coming decades high-tech will likely be cost-prohibitive as vital rare-earth materials are over-mined and and possibly not available in sufficient quantity. (That includes our computers, as well as all the computers which control production & distribution of our necessities).And as Ian noted, the looming disaster of global climate change may render moot all high-tech activity. If I planned on living another 80 years, I’d be investing in low-tech equipment, skills and community-based living.

  9. Sid Finster

    This is a very smart move for a politically exposed company such as Amazon.

    They can make themselves indispensable to the Deep State, and do so for chump change.

  10. nihil obstet

    At what point does the surveillance turn the authorities against each other? It’s one thing if there’s one power center using it. J. Edgar Hoover was able to blackmail politicians to get his way because he had the FBI investigative mechanism, and too few people understood for a backlash to develop. But what happens when the technology is sufficiently widespread that different ambitious characters, interest groups, factions and the like can use it against each other. We’ve had something of this going on with Wikileaks. The huge secretive power structure has problems when it’s no longer secret, and thus, the over the top striking at Snowden, Assange, and Manning. In the end, even an authority consisting of only a few people will fall out with each other.

    In our hunter-gatherer groups of few than 100 individuals, we had virtually no privacy. Privacy developed as a feature available to most people in the 17th c. (they put halls in houses! You could relax in a room without people going through to get to another part of the house!) Obsessive as I am about privacy, I do consider whether a decent society for us all could come out of the other side of the technology.

  11. Chiron

    Facebook is also serving the Military-Industrial-Complex, after some time with become obvious that the MUH RUSSIA hysteria was about keeping the big tech companies under tighter control of the MIC.

  12. different clue

    If such programs and systems are buildable by any smart trained IT person, then cheaper versions of it can also be designed by and/or for activists.

    Imagine Face Recognition systems workable over personal cell phones and other things being designed to Face Recognize all the undercover police infiltrating every demonstration and gathering and group.

  13. atcooper

    I keep coming across the notion that privacy is a new thing, but I guess I just don’t follow?

    What’s to keep a person from taking some time away from the tribe? From going over the hill or what have you for an hour or two?

    With maybe a few million folks on the planet there would be plenty of space to get away for a bit.

  14. NR

    All you people complaining about the Deep State and the Military-Industrial Complex realize that Trump is fully on board with the modern survellience state, right?

  15. different clue


    Yes, we are aware of that. Or at least we should be.

    At least Trump hasn’t declared a unilateral no-fly zone over Syria and tried enforcing it by forcing down or shooting down Russian warplanes. The way Clinton promised she would do ” when elected”.

    So at least we haven’t all died yet in the Thermonuclear War with the only other Peer Thermonuclear Power on Earth which a President Clinton would have brought us.

    So we are all still alive and able someday maybe to do something-or-other about the Super SnooperState at some point.

  16. Hugh

    Trump is on board with the surveillance state as long as it isn’t aimed at him and he can use it against anyone he doesn’t like.

  17. NR

    I was not and am not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but saying she would have unilaterally imposed a no-fly zone over Syria is just flat-out wrong.

    “This would not be done just on the first day. This would take a lot of negotiation and making clear to the Russians and Syrians that our goal would be to provide safe zones for people on the ground.”

    She clearly said it would have been negotiated with Russia. And in any case, the idea that a no-fly zone would have led to the extinction of all life on Earth via nuclear war is ridiculous on its face.

    Let’s try to stay grounded in reality, shall we?

  18. V

    John Kiriakou says the “deep state” is no longer deep; it’s the state, up front and in your face.
    No need to hide any longer; we’ve arrived…

  19. How is this any different than carrying a tracking device in your back pocket?

  20. jrkrideau

    @ atcooper May 23, 2018

    There is “privacy” and there is “privacy”.

    There was probably nothing to prevent someone in a hunter–gatherer culture from wandering off for a while or going off to do a bit of hunting or gathering on their own. Private time would be available though the need for it might not be well understood.

    On the other hand, if you were “interested” in that hot young lad or lass, any courtship actions were known to everyone almost instantaneously.

    If you and your spouse are having disagreements, again it will be around the group in a flash.

    Any heroic deed or grand screw-up will common knowledge to all your acquaintances.

    I am not sure, but it could very well be that your footprints would be well enough known that most of the community could say “Oh, At was down at the spring not long ago. It looks like JR was with them.”

  21. marku52

    NR: All the record (Libya, Honduras) and the collection of neocons who endorsed her (Allbright, Kagan, Boot) proved to me she was a war monger.

    Trump at least spoke out against our incompetent and disastrous ME meddling. Of course, the Blob absorbed him almost immediately.

  22. different clue


    I would suggest you read in depth and detail the posts by Colonel ( Retired) Lang and his guest posters at Sic Semper Tyrannis on the titles bunches of subjects titled “Syria” and “Russia”. Others might come to mind.

    These are former diplomats, former intelligence people ( some may still be current), former military people, etc. I take them more seriously than I take expressions of clintonite belief ( including belief in the Clinton’s deceitful and insincere statements the Clinton itself may have made in its oh-so-lawyerly way). The people at Sic Semper Tyrannis are more grounded in reality than any Clinton supporter.

    One of the reality-based realities they discuss was the very real threat of thermonuclear war with Russia that Clinton would create, both with her desire to support the GAJ and the CLEJ in Syria, with her support for the Banderazi coup regime in Kiev, and her general and longstanding antiRussianitic racist antiRussianite bigotry against Putin in particular and against Russia in general. I am not interested in how any Jonestown Clinton cult worshippers might feel about that.

  23. NR

    different clue:

    I am fully aware of Clinton’s hawkish nature, that is one of the main things I disliked about her. But when you say that her winning the election would have meant nuclear armageddon for the entire world, it becomes very difficult for me to take anything else you say seriously.

    It’s entirely possible to criticise Clinton’s hawkishness in ways that are grounded in reality, without inventing insane doomsday scenarios.

  24. Some Guy

    “Ironically, it may be that widespread social collapse due to various environmental issues may be our best bet at avoiding our masters desire for a steady state authoritarian dystopia.”


  25. different clue


    I offered you a pathway to some serious articles to read by serious people. I don’t think you could have read them all that fast.

    I don’t care whether you take anything I say about this or anything else seriously or not. If you suspect anything else I have to say about anything else may be a waster of your time, you can always click past it without reading it.

    God made a scroll button.

  26. NR

    different clue:

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You’ve offered no evidence to support your extraordinary (to say the least) claim that Hillary Clinton winning the election would have resulted in nuclear armageddon for the world beyond “some guys on a blog said so.”

    I don’t understand the need to make up outlandish scenarios like this, especially when there is a ton of legitimate stuff to criticize Hillary Clinton over (especially in the foreign policy department).

    And you replied to me, so I don’t know why you’re surprised that I replied to you.

  27. different clue


    Thank you for your interest in my comments. I am always happy to hear from you. Please let me know if you have any other concerns.

  28. Tom W Harris

    On another blog, when I tried to log into a comment thread the other day with Google, a Disqus screen popped up and told me I had to give up all privacy to complete the login. I said eff it. Non-participation may be our only option.

  29. different clue

    @Tom W Harris,

    It is a depressing trade-off being “offered” to us. I read only a few blogs. I comment only on some of those. I hope my comments may be of value to mid-level or high-level people who also read and comment on these blogs.

    We are digi-spied on from all different kinds of directions. I wonder if Disqus’s zero-privacy policy would get us much more spied on than if we continued using everything else we use except Disqus. Sic Semper Tyrannis has gone over to Disqus, and some of the people there are computer people, intelligence people, etc. If I see some of them disappearing from the threads at Sic Semper Tyrannis, then I will suppose that they see a new and different spying risk from Disqus than they see from everything else already. For myself, I have default-accepted whatever spying risk Disqus has decided to impose on me in order to preserve my opportunity to offer some thoughts and opinions for the consideration of the various other people over there.

    And if Ian Welsh goes Disqus, i will keep commenting here. ( I should experiment with commenting over at Naked Capitalism to see if I am still banned. I still haven’t written the little tale of my enbanment over there which I said at the time I would).

  30. Tom W Harris

    &different clue,

    If this blog went Disqus, I would not comment here. Hopefully this won’t happen.

    And Disqus is not the only manifestation. When I sign on to Blogger, this is what I see:

    European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used and data collected on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent.

    As a courtesy, we have added a notice on your blog to explain Google’s use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies, and other data collected by Google.

    You are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for your blog, and that it displays. If you employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for you. If you include functionality from other providers there may be extra information collected from your users.

    Learn more about this notice and your responsibilities.

    Not sure how or why an EU intrusion into the A merican websphere is justified, but I do know I’m not having any.

  31. different clue

    Tom W. Harris,

    I suspect any EU intrusion into the US digital Corporation space is not an attempt to spy more and spy harder. I suspect it is an attempt to force the US digital Corporations to spy less and spy softer in EUrope. And if EUrope does not trust the US digital Corporate Class to spy less in EUrope even as it spies more and harder in America, it may be trying to force the US digital Corporate Class to spy less and spy softer in America too , as being the only way it can force the US digital Corporate Class to spy less and spy softer in EUrope.

    The other way would be to cut ( physically if necessary) or block all the cables and antennas physically or electro-magnetically permitting the US digital Corporate Class to contact EUropean digital infrastructure or machinery.

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