Science Fiction does it again

In his novel, Earth, David Brin, writing in 1991, describes a society in the year 2038 where military action is taken against people who keep secrets… And, by the way, in which Bangladesh is simply gone due to rising sea levels, and physics experiments are about to destroy the world.

One thing he gets right: he posits a world where nearly everyone wears a video camera, and is constantly uplinking video in real time to central servers accessibile to all. Senior citizens especially are likely to be wearing video cameras to record any crimes committed against them, which combined with facial recognition software is a powerful deterrent.

And now, from LA:

Some Los Angeles grass-roots groups are training citizens to use cameras, video cell phones and the speed and Internet sites like YouTube to get their voices, and pictures, heard.

“We urge everyone to have a camera on them at all times so if anything happens it can be documented. The concept of patrolling the police is something we are trying to push as a form of direct action,” said Sherman Austin, a founder of Cop Watch L.A., which launched its Web site three months ago.

The three videos shot on cell phones or small recorders capturing Los Angeles police using apparently excessive force to restrain suspects all surfaced within a week.

Of course, what goes around comes around. If the anti-police patrol would police its own communities, recording drug buys, muggings, trolling johns, etc., imagine the salutary effect on minority on minority crime. Of course, some of those folks shoot back with something besides camcorders: unlike the cops. Now, when a cop plugs somebody for videoing an arrest, THAT will be real news.
In the meantime, guard your secrets jealously.

14 thoughts on “Science Fiction does it again

  1. aly hawkins

    This reminds me of when I read William Gibson’s Neuromancer, right around the time VR technology was making a splash. Truth is stranger than fiction.

    It is weird how cops have become the bad guys in our culture. I admit that I’ve had “Oh, crap… it’s the po-po” thoughts once or twice when edging up over 80 mph on the freeway. I recognize that police provide a valuable and necessary service to our society (and on balance I respect them for it), but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some misgivings about para-military organizations in general… if only because part of the training is learning to follow orders in the chain of command, and in some sense abdicating moral responsibility to standardized regulations. I understand the rationale for this kind of training (my brother–who is in the Navy–and I have had several in-depth conversations about it), but it still gives me the creeps.

    I definitely agree, though, that people’s energy would be much better spent on helping to “police” the real bad guys rather than big-brothering those entrusted to enforce the law.

  2. Morphea

    Wow, you’re RIGHT, Phil. No one ever gets video of crimes being committed by civilians. Do you spend any time on YouTube?

    And – “ONE thing Brin gets right?” Dude, on top of everything else, you’re dissing one of my favorite sci-fi books ever? Sucky.


  3. phil Post author

    Hey Cerise, far from dissing, I love the book and would recommend it to anyone.

    it stands on its own without any help from me or my opinions…. It’s just a brilliant piece of writing. I’d recommend anything by the author… with whose politics I probably disagree, but I recognize talent when I read it.

    But, Bangladesh is not going to be flooded by 2038 (nor any of the other places Brin speculates about similarly). It maybe seemed a reasonable guess at the time of the actual writing (1990)… but we’d have to be 1/3 of the way there now… and we aren’t ANYWHERE near that.

    It is apparent that absent some incredible sea-change, the world is not going to unite around ANY kind of military action in the near future… unless it’s against the USA. Certainly not against Swiss bankers.

    Just kidding…. I think.

    RE: physics experiments destroying the world (well, almost), that’s such a staple of SciFi that it would be churlish of me to deny him that as a plot device.

    And Cerise, I wasn’t talking about random “security video” of crimes, but about citizens as determined to capture local crime on video as these anti-police types are determined to capture police abuse. Not saying police abuse never happens. Not saying crime never gets videoed.

    AM saying that in the worst neighborhoods in town, if 30 people stood on every corner with camcorders and the like, crime would come to a full stop. Call it techno-neighborhood watch. Shoot… people could just sit and shoot it from the second or third floor on every corner, and the local techno-neighborhood watch group could advertise the fact, and the bad guys wouldn’t be able to ID who was shooting it…. maybe eliminating most of the fear of reprisal.

    Suddenly drug buys would go indoors. Casual robbery/theft would drop. Trolling johns, the bane of many communities, would go somewhere else.

    If the anti-police types really wanted to fix the problems in the neighborhoods (which are emphatically NOT the cops, primarily), they’d gin up all that concern and organizational ability and do something useful. As it is, they are mostly planning to provoke incidents which they can video for inflammatory purposes. Which has been done before… and will be done again.

    Remember the black former LA cop who provoked an incident with police a few years ago, while his friend videoed from a parked car, just to make a point and cry racism?

    Gee… what a blow for civil rights.

    I stand with Brin on this one…. bandwidth is going to change the balance for a lot of social problems.

  4. Morphea

    OK – [lowers hackles] the fact that you like David Brin just raised you several points in my esteem, not that that will make you sleep any better at night, but I’m just sayin’.

    I’m also going to cautiously agree that anonymous civilian activism re: human security camera operators would probably lower crime, though I reserve the right to think more about how the whole thing could go horribly wrong and/or be either turned against itself or emasculated in short order and report back to you.

    I just don’t like the idea of us all watchdogging each other. You recall in the book how irritating it was when all of the elderly in the park turned their cameras on the younger persons who weren’t up to anything particularly shady. I mean, maybe if we all turned into Big Sibling the government’s alleged minute observation of us wouldn’t feel so fearsome, who knows.

    How I wish we could meet in person, drink ourselves to giggling (or I drink and you pop pain meds) and talk sci-fi. Are you feeling OK?


  5. harmonicminer

    Hi Cerise,

    yeah, doing better… back is still far from perfect, but better than it was 2-3 weeks ago. You know you’re getting old when you drive around with a heating pad behind your back….

    Big Sibling…. I like that one!

    Yeah, the vidcamnetwork thing could be abused… but considering the enormous amount of footage that would exist, no one could watch most of it…. so there’d be the occasional abuse, but mostly people wouldn’t pay attention to it unless something bad happened. Shoot… people watch me pretty closely when I pull up to AM-PM now… maybe it’s the tattoos.

    That’s basically why I don’t worry too much about the government eavesdropping my telephone now… they COULD… and I suppose if I ticked off someone in the hierarchy that they could abuse their power and come after me in some way… but mostly, there is just so much phone conversation in a day that it would take millions of people doing nothing but listening all the time to actually snoop seriously.

    On the other hand…. if the computer doing the “listening” picks up the words “explosive” and “airplane” in the same sentence, especially spoken in Arabic or French or Urdu…. well, I’d just as soon a human review that particular conversation… since they may have been just talking about the digestive processes of the passenger next to them on the flight, but… just in case.

    It’s a little creepy, I know…. it may just be part of the price we pay for being in a world where one bad person can do so much damage to so many people in just a few seconds. That didn’t used to be possible.

  6. Morphea

    You have tattoos? (coupla more notches…)

    Your Urdu plane digestive explosion remark made me laugh and laugh. Did you see that article in the news about the lady farting and lighting matches to cover the smell that caused a passenger plane to make an emergency landing? It’s a beautiful world, man…


  7. Morphea

    Re: Big Sibling – I like to be overwrought in my use of PC language – mostly because it sounds damned hilarious when used in serious conversation.


  8. Chad

    Big Sister is waaaay more scary then Big Brother. She’ll keep notes. Big Brother can’t even form a coherent statement.

    Big Sibling is… pretty hilarious. Thank you.

  9. harmonicminer

    Well, to be honest…. the only tattoos I have are those provided by God, both old and new… birthmark (don’t ask, unless you’re willing to pay to see), and an increasing number of blotches, blemishes and blots, some of which may eventually connect and spell words…. or at least provide punctuation.

    But I do read SF, and have zillions of ‘em. One of the types of books I rarely sell back to the used book stores… I absolutely love asking “what if” and seeing where it winds up. Been reading the stuff since I was about 7, charter member of the sci-fi book club, the whole nine parsecs.

    And Big Sister IS way scarier.

    Don’t worry, Aly, Cerise and I are not getting along. I’m just medicated. Your sense of reality is safe. I’m just loading up my raygun.

    Has anyone read the new Michael Crichton book, NEXT? Reading it now (well, listening while I drive)… it’s very interesting, and more than a little scary. I may never have blood drawn again.

  10. corey

    I just bought NEXT on Monday and am a coupla chapters into it. The last MC I read was Airframe, but that was, like, 9 years ago or soemthing. I’m excited. Crighton’s a good, quick read.

  11. harmonicminer

    I just finished NEXT, by Michael Crichton, which is a sign I drive too much, since that’s the only time I listened to it, and I had the unabridged audio version.

    It’s worth the read if you’re curious about the human (and not-so-human) situations that are going to develop (indeed, some have already) around genetic manipulation, species combination, etc. I may never look at an African Grey Parrot the same way again. Crichton seems to have adopted the cautionary tale as a way to make important points about current and near-future issues in science, and has found a way to do so very entertainingly, while challenging a lot of contemporary assumptions and policy perspectives…. call it “speaking truth to power” if you like that sort of lingo.

    That’s what he did in “State of Fear”, and it’s what he’s done in “Next”. I don’t want to say much more about it for now… If you plan to read it, I don’t want to spoil the story.

    I would suggest, however, that you live your personal life out of the hearing of smart birds.

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