We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Eyes under water

Coverage of surveillance in the Nov 2003 issue of National Geographic is summarised and accessed here.

The theme, a running meme here, is that because surveillance technology can do such good stuff, it will be installed, and then it can also do bad stuff.

Underwater surveillance, we are told, saved this man’s life:

On this particular day maybe the lifeguards weren’t paying as close attention as they should have been. Certainly they believed the trim, athletic LeRoy was not a high-risk swimmer.

But on this evening LeRoy was practicing apnea swimming – testing how far he could swim underwater on one breath – and at some point, without making any visible or audible disturbance on the water’s surface, he blacked out. The guards failed to notice as he stopped swimming and descended to the bottom of the deep end of the pool. With his arms crossed over his head and his feet twitching, he was unconscious and drowning. It would take him as little as four minutes to die.

Although the human lifeguards watching the pool were oblivious, 12 large machine eyes deep underwater were watching the whole thing and taking notice. Just nine months earlier the center had installed a state-of-the-art electronic surveillance system called Poseidon, a network of cameras that feeds a computer programmed to use a set of complex mathematical algorithms to distinguish between normal and distressed swimming. Poseidon covers a pool’s entire swimming area and can distinguish among blurry reflections, shadows, and actual swimmers. It can also tell when real swimmers are moving in a way they’re not supposed to. When the computer detects a possible problem, it instantly activates a beeper to alert lifeguards and displays the exact incident location on a monitor. The rest is up to the humans above the water.

Sixteen seconds after Poseidon noticed the large, sinking lump that was Jean-François LeRoy, lifeguards had LeRoy out of the pool and were initiating CPR. He started breathing again. After one night in the local hospital, he was released with no permanent damage. Poseidon – and, more precisely, the handful of French mathematicians who devised it – had saved his life.

And if the machines can see stuff like that, what else can they see?

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