Most people who view TV will have happened upon the series “Person of Interest”. A supercomputer is programmed to predict terrorist acts. Other crimes are ignored by its government client as irrelevant. However, the computer acquires a sense of right and wrong: the series’ real person of interest becomes this battling with nascent conscience.
“To be or not to be” becomes “To intervene or not to intervene”. And Hamlet’s dilemma, one of a suddenly modern policing.
Or is it so modern?
I think it was Bill Gates who argued (I quote poorly from memory): “Make your manual procedures as good as they can be before automating and/or industrialising them up.” That is to say, don’t multiply before making as robust as poss.
We also frequently, happily, intuit that: “There’s nothing new under the sun …”.
Everything, then, has been invented, it would seem. What’s really our job as innovators of “Century 21” is to reinvent – to bring to the table of new audiences – those crumbs of beautiful cake preciously consumed by other centuries of grand.
It is my assertion, therefore, that the computer in “Person of Interest” did absolutely nothing which manually hasn’t already been done, over the past two hundred years at least: some crimes prevented, some crimes not stopped but nevertheless eventually punished, and then some knowingly permitted – perhaps as a matter of rank but necessary expediency.
But it’s not only the police and other security agencies which will often allow a sovereign citizen to suffer the consequences of sustained criminality on their person. The trade and stuff of the Fourth Estate involves not publishing everything a journalist knows, in order that either a favour be extended for future benefit or, alternatively, a greater knowledge of even worse ramifications be acquired.
There’s always a bigger story to be constructed on the back of a poor sod’s survival – especially where this be deliberately allowed to worsen.
It’s the way of the world: knowledge is only real power when withheld.
It’s equally true, too: there is nothing new in tech; but, again, perhaps there is.
For innovation involves velocity as well as nature; getting there first before another; destroying the individual defined as enemy; making the human race this enemy of choice; reverting all sentient thought and action into monetisable economic units.
This may be good, bad, inevitable, embraceable. Not really what I am discussing here.
What I am discussing here is that our servants of civil are here not to protect and serve but to protect and defend: and therein lies a substantial difference.
When you choose not to intervene in the downward spiral of a life in your neighbourhood, because leaving the criminal pressure-cooker to vent every so often is preferable to mighty explosion, as a law-enforcement agency you have crossed a blue line and made it manifestly red.
Our criminality is, or it isn’t. No half measures.
And when you become the person of interest because of your integrity rather than your criminality, that’s when the knives of manual cut become the lashes of informatic hurt.
A police officer who comes to depend on a supercomputer for their decision-making is no longer any match for organised crime. Because what separated them in the past from the evil of all crime was their intuition: their very humanness. Now all that separates them is the depth of the pocket that pays for the machine.
Until we learn to re-factor into artificial intelligence our fabulous intuitive thought, we shall be no more nor less than extensions of such devices, and at the mercy of the hierarchy of tech-wealth of our enemy. Until we can again make it this wondrous human thought which defines the ground rules, nothing else will be delivered but terrifying pain: existential, societal, eventually just a sustained inhuman oppression.
So think again, please. It’s time.