The Surveillance State and Drones In Pop Culture

drone1Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of pop culture movies being invaded by the “drones run by the bad guys” theme – for example in Captain America: Winter Soldier, we find out that the flying fortresses (kind of like a drone on steroids) are using big data mining and predictive analytics in order to determine who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, then (usually just the people who don’t agree with the bad guys) and then take them out. In one of my favorite shows, Person Of Interest, where the lead geek guy who invented this machine which benevolently monitors everyone and then spits out the SSN numbers of terrorists is forced to go on the run due to the actions of another similar machine, run by the bad guys, who does the same kind of big data mining and predictive analysis to determine who the bad guys are again. And another example: 24, Live Another Day, the bad guys use geeks who can take over a drone and use it to kill allies instead, and at the same time blame the drone operator.

In most of these scenarios, the surveillance state is basically taken as a given – the only real battle there is is for whole controls it. Snappy dialog like “wouldn’t you flip a switch to kill the terrorists who are holding your daughter hostage” is met with “not if you are holding the switch”. Why? All encompassing surveillance and predictive analytics are great in all of these – they just fall into the wrong hands and its up to our heroes to wrest back control.

Rarely do they talk about tearing the system up – its all about having the reins. Make sure that the good guys are controlling it.

Thing is though – there is no such thing as a “good guy” because, in reality, what is good for A is not necessarily good for B. So if B is running the show – the drone picks out pot smokers or gay couples. If A is running the show, the drone picks out Christians and conservatives.

Technology is giving us a world of total surveillance, run by the state. Big data and predictive analytics may one day tell us, Minority Report style, that this guy will commit a crime. But if you ask me – there is no such thing as pre-crime. There is no such thing as predicting what someone will do. At the last second – that terrorist may decide not to get on that plane. That killer may decide not to pull that trigger.

There is no reason for the tech which can predict this ability can also shield us from this overly intrusive surveillance. Its too bad that no one in the mass market seems to care. That everyone is happy to offer up privacy for utility.

Even when things blow up – eventually utility is still more prized. Do we all have to be mugged or robbed in order to learn our lesson?