We live like prisoners and we haven’t yet realized

We live like prisoners and we haven't yet realized
We live like prisoners and we haven't yet realized

When prisons began to fill up with prisoners in the late 18th century as a result of the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the replacement of physical punishment as a punishment for deprivation of liberty – Some brains were looking for the formula to speed up the release of prisoners from prisons if possible reinstalled.

One of the most groundbreaking ideas was the philosopher and economist Jeremy Bentham: panoptics. Quickly said: A round floor prison is built and the cells are placed on the circumference, which is easily visible from the center of the floor covering, At this central point, a tower will be built to house the guards who can monitor the prisoners around the clock, with the enormous advantage that they – the prisoners – do not know when they are being guarded.

Result? As the prisoner knows that he is being watched, he is forced to act according to the laws and either according to custom, or because an intense inner monologue is fueled by paranoia, knowing that he is being watched by the invisible guard. The prisoner becomes aware of his crime and understands that he must not do so.

Of course Bentham’s model did not succeed, although several prisons were built with this idea. What remained was the concept of the observed person who knows that he is but cannot know where or when, And this concept is technologically up to date thanks to the NSA and Cambridge Analytica.

Do we live in digital pan optics?

“I have no doubt that we live in digital pan optics.” sentence Miren Gutierrez, Director of the Postgraduate Program Analysis, Research and Data Communication and Professor of Communication at Deusto. But the former director of Greenpeace Spain goes even further and is upset the panspectrum, term coined by Sandra Braman that looks like the 5G version of the Panoptik.

If the panoptics is limited by Newton’s laws (observations and observers have to coincide in time and space), the panspectrum is above them, well The guard can watch even if the guard is thousands of kilometers and / or days away. There’s the search history, the cookies, the timeline, the bank transaction reports… Big data. Using all this to keep track is called dataveillance.

And who is exercising this vigilance? Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple… “People are aware of their privacy monitoring for commercial purposes and expect to send ads when they feel comfortable and access certain content on the web. It is the price to be paid.“ Gutierrez concludes.

We are modern prisoners

But not only the brands watch. For Ulises Cortés, Professor and researcher for artificial intelligence at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, is the big change between panoptics without a surname and digital It is not at all clear who the guardian is, “There is no central authority that controls all and is responsible for the suppression. Now we’re not talking about suppressing, but compressing. We changed the concept of physical disappearance in 1984 through digital lynching“. The citizens monitor and censor each other.

And when someone is missing from the guards to end the feeling that everyone is watching, the governments come in. “Surveillance and education have always been an important part of governments, for better and for worse“ Explains Miren Gutiérrez, “and I understand that information about the needs of citizens is needed to govern, but this is something completely different: collecting data in the event that you stop paying your taxes, means that everyone is suspicious on principle. The problem is not that governments are monitoring because they are supposed to do this to manage the common good, but that of corporate governments, marriage between major platforms and governments”.

The teacher mentions two cases that she considers to be clarifiers: the transfer of data from millions of AT&T and Verizon users to the U.S. government between 2003 and 2013 and more recently Cambridge Analytica accesses data from 50 million Facebook users (with the consent of Zuckerberg) to send them political information. “And we’re not talking about a newcomer company. Cambridge Analytica had experience with this and knew that people with the most extreme opinions were the most vulnerable to this type of campaign.“

A big lie in front of everyone
A big lie in front of everyone

How did you come here?

For the former director of Greenpeace Spain, panoptics and its consequences are the result of one “Type of normalization”, “We undressed on social networks and gave the platforms our privacy. All of this has resulted in a much more tolerant society with this interference in our lives. And when people who are sensitive to these things manifest, they increasingly intervene in their rights. And many people then say: “What problem do you have if you haven’t done anything?” What is that mindset? Put a camera in my house since I didn’t do anything.“

“We undressed on social networks and gave the platforms our privacy. All of this has resulted in a much more tolerant society with this interference in our lives.“

Professor Ulises Cortés emphasizes the same idea: “When the citizen thinks:” Since my data is worthless and I have nothing to hide, I am not worried about being watched.“, “We were surrounded by technology that was initially harmless, but later turned out to be not so. What does it react to that the cameras on the iPhone are always better if there is no improvement in facial recognition and location?“ Asks Cortés, who expects that the technological escalation will continue to increase as a result of surveillance.

Ramón López de MántarasThe research professor at the Supreme Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and founder and former director of the Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence of the CSIC is very cautious with the upcoming Internet of Things. “I have serious doubts that IoT is a good idea, The car must be connected so that it is completely autonomous. In the event of an accident, you can contact the emergency services and save your life. But there are completely irrelevant cases. Why should my fridge be connected to the internet? What is the added value if I receive a message while working that the milk is over? If people shop happily and are not informed about all these devices, digital panoptics will be neglected.“

Regulation cannot be enough.

“I understand that excessive regulation can limit innovation and freedom, however the lack of regulation generates monopolies and abuses of all kinds, because companies will go as far as you leave them” Gutiérrez said, warning of the risk of administrations using algorithms developed by companies that may not have the same values ​​as the governments that mandated them.

“I don’t understand how governments depend on these platforms that use proprietary and commercial software. You are often told that there is nothing you can do about Google. Sorry, switch systems first, switch from Google, and use open systems. And secondly Create a service provider guide that contains the values ​​you want to promote, You won’t change the world, but you can create a domino effect like city councilors buy electric cars,” said Gutierrez.

The general EU data protection regulation, which has been in force since mid-2008, is so far the first obstacle to protecting EU citizens from the use of personal data by digital platforms. Nothing is yet on the table to regulate the use of private algorithms to handle public affairs, although a strategic plan on AI is currently being prepared.

These contact lenses will have an augmented reality thanks to a half-millimeter screen with 70,000 pixels
These contact lenses will have an augmented reality thanks to a half-millimeter screen with 70,000 pixels

For Professor Gutierrez, the regulations under development are not enough and require greater commitment from citizens to configure as devices to restrict access to their personal information. “It’s not just about privacy, it’s also about freedom and democracy.”, “Do we want a simple society in which Alexa decides everything for us to be spied on in our actions and feelings, or do we want a freer society for the price of discomfort and greater support for the rights of all?”.


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