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A-Z of the Future > Panopticism

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The panopticon is a prison in which inmates constantly feel like they are being watched. Panopticism is a social theory that builds on this idea.


Surveillance in modern society, part of the intelligence explosion, has developed to such an extent that some argue we already live in a super-panopticon. The proliferation of security cameras, and troves of digital data that record much of our daily activity is already extremely pervasive. However, technological development would suggest this may be the tip of the iceberg.


And there could be very good reasons to hugely increase surveillance in the future. Radical technological development makes the world potentially very vulnerable to attack. If our tools develop exponentially, then that includes our weapons. If information is abundant and highly accessible then it could be very difficult to prevent the accessibility of radically potent weapons. Anyone could cause grave damage at any time.


Unless, that is, everyone is constantly prevented from doing so. One way of achieving this is by making sure people’s intentions are constantly monitored. Various technological developments open up the potential for surveillance on a mass scale. Of course, this means the end to privacy, and indeed civil liberties as we understand them.


Perhaps if everyone is under permanent surveillance through the all encompassing and interconnected technologies that may come to dominate our social world, then new cultural norms and expectations could render these ideas less monstrous than they may at first appear. Coveillence would mean we constantly monitor each other. A threat comes from the possibility of a small group being exempt from the vagaries of a panoptic society, who would then have unprecedented levels of power and control.


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