Watching Exit Through the Gift Shop [link], the Banksy documentary… there’s a scene where Banksy takes the documentary guy way upstairs to a back room in his wherehouse. He pulls a dusty box off an old wooden shelf and pulls out a wad of 1 pound notes. They’d replaced the queen’s face on the notes with Lady Di’s face with creepy eyes. He says they did a million of them and were going to throw them off a building downtown. But they took a few hundred to a festival to hand out one day and no one realized they were fakes. Everyone just spent them. And then Banksy waves to the wall of square-stacked dusty boxes. “We have a million quid in here. You can go to jail for 10 years for that, so I don’t know what to do with them, we can’t hand them out.”
We have the tools to create reality now. DIY. What can we make with that? Particularly when the tools we can create can be just as easily used to facilitate worse realities. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the context of the Gigavision project [link]. We are creating a camera that can take a billion pixel resolution image every 15 minutes and stream it to the web in almost real time. To do good science with this camera you would want tools that let you identify and tag every plant in the picture. Then attach that plant’s images and location to every other piece of information known about that plant. Then step back a level and attach all the species and behavior information from that location to every other available group of the same plants in any location in the world where data was collected. Connect this to additional datastreams from photos sites like flickr where any image geotagged near that plant’s location with pixels matching the plant’s signature would have their information harvested. Add in genetic data for each plant in the landscape and all their relatives. Then build the tools to do this into a simple protocol that runs on the cloud. Anyone who buys a camera with the right specs or creates a high res image set can feed in their images as well and use all the available tools for whatever data collection they want. Make the whole thing open source / open standards. Pretty cool stuff for science education.
It wouldn’t be hard to make camera systems that only cost $2-3,000 per camera if they were engineered them in bulk and the system became a standard. So while we’re happily watching plants grow someone else installs a few cameras in the city and tags people instead. Then connects that person to all their data with the same data structure we use to make it easy to learn how all the plants are connected. In half a day I could rewrite our code so that if my iPhone ran of the apps that broadcasts your position to the web, my gigavision camera could track me from up on the hill and film my movements through the city throughout the day.
That would make a pretty sweet operating system for a police state. And its not that the powers that be aren’t trying to build the same things to use for nefarious purposes; rather that I’m pretty sure what we have in mind is a lot cheaper and would really work in all the creepy ways they dream of.
What do you do when you find you’ve could envision something that if it were slotted into the world, it would become a real thing and the world would be different.
I heard once that the way ICBMs were originally designed to find their targets (pre GPS I assume) is they fly up into space, take a picture of the sky, compare it to sky maps stored on the warhead and then calculate their position on the earth. We can nuke any city on the planet into dust in under 30 minutes with this cool little hack. Whoever thought that up was brilliant. So what does right livelihood mean in this new era when a good idea can be adapted for anything?