Smile, You’re on Ubiquitous Cameras

David Streitfeld writes in today’s New York Times about early privacy debates concerning Google Glass. Devices that make photography and videography essentially effortless change the boundaries between public capture and assumptions of privacy through transcience- surely noone is capturing everything I’m doing? Streitfeld’s article rightly points out that new technology can test existing legal frameworks in unforeseen ways, in this case challenging First Amendment and fair use intuitions by loosing new, slightly more uncomfortable scenarios. The article notes that one developer has enabled Google Glass to snap pictures with the blink of an eye rather than the more outwardly obvious tap of the eyeglass frame. I would like to add a bit of Robot Futures-style analysis to the debate. First, note that many cities already have camera networks that record essentially everything that the citizens do outdoors. Wearable cameras give such infrastructure a more tangible face, and move the power relationship from the state to individuals– from the uncontrollable to the unpredictable. Of course all such cameras only increase in resolution; what is hidden in the fog of lens limits today will be revealed tomorrow, and so the saturation of our spaces by recording devices will witness a one-way march. The second point I want to make is that automation, machine vision and AI tend us away from user-gestured snapshots and toward capturing everything, all the time, effortlessly because technology promises, one day, to make retrieval easy, even from a nearly infinite mountain of recorded data. This is a trend that further changes our relationshp to photography: what does it mean when we don’t actively choose what to frame and when to shoot, instead trusting in the fact that, since everything is captured, we can always retrieve any particular shot we could have taken. We become less active because technology promises to give us convenience over decision-making.¬† The cameras are here, already, and there will be vibrant debates regarding privacy and fair use. But no matter where these legal policies settle, the road we are on seems to lead toward machine autonomy in lieu of individual empowerment.

One thought on “Smile, You’re on Ubiquitous Cameras

  1. Mike Blevins Microexpressions: Exploring Motion Image Photography — (related to article in May 2013 Rangefinder Magazine)
    Check out the above video for another view on how technology is changing the role of photography. Current pro-cameras or so good that you can take video and later select excellent still images from the results. The photographer’s interviewed in this video discuss and demonstrate how the technology is changing their role in making images. Since the photographer’s goal is to make the best possible image, the professionals don’t see it in a negative light. Similar discussions occurred in the 1800’s when photography unseated painting and drawings as the way we capture reality and create art.

    On a more casual level, ubiquitous cell phone cameras are doing this as well. Witness the quality images available of the Boston bombing suspects. Google Glass will take it to a new level. Camera laden flying drones also also essentially here. If all that’s not enough, check out the GigiPan Epic Pro — Robotic Camera Mount for extreme detail panoramic images.

    Our concept of how reality is recorded, saved and replayed is about to change … Mike


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