Bare with me here.
Why worry about publicly obvious closed circuit cameras to do city surveillance when you could simply mandate, as part of all building codes, that all external, or internal, exposed surface materials, to one degree or another, have a certain ratio of photon receptors per square area. And you do this so that the sensors are just an integral part of the surface material, and that the panels, or sheets, or whatever, also have standardized substrate circuitry so that any part of that surface could then be polled, either individually, or in groups, so that various algorithms could apply aggregating methodologies to gain whatever is desired in a virtual aperture size; granting a wall section, or post, column, or whatever else, to zoom in or out, at whatever resolution might best apply for any need that might arise.
This would certainly, then, beg the next question. To whom would this ability to do such comprehensively pervasive, visual sensing be given to?
Forgetting, for the moment, just how huge such a new channels of data collection might ultimately prove to be, just consider the chilling potential of never ever being able to assume you are in a private space.
We've already seen how much pressure cities can be put under by law enforcement, and other interest groups, to have as much citywide surveillance as possible, with ordinary cameras; which are, of course not only way too obvious a presence, but are also inherently limited in how comprehensive they can be for any given complex urban space. But in this scenario you take all of those limitations away. Do you think this will make the pressure cities feel for more coverage any less easier to resist?
So. The question we may have to end up asking ourselves is this: To one degree or another, the need to do surveillance may become too big to resist, despite quite valid concerns for privacy. And if we have to come to terms with that in some way perhaps its time to ask ourselves if there might not be a way to do it that protects privacy, without having to be in direct opposition for the need to know what's going on around us in the first place.
What if we embraced ultimate observation. What if we figured out a way to have every physical place it is possible to be in be monitored. How would you do that and not have it automatically create the most pernicious police state the imagination has ever dreamed up?
Perhaps you might do it as follows: Instead of all of this unbelievably huge matrix of collectable data being funneled to a central repository of some kind, where big data learning systems continuously evolve to analyze it, you went another way. Suppose you set things up so that each surface that could provide area coverage provided that output only on specially coded requests that came from a kind of cell phone recorder, that each person would be required to wear, that would work in reverse of what we understand of cell phones today.
By this I mean each personal unit, instead of looking for the best receiver tower to stay in the network with, would always be searching for as many surface areas, in the immediate vicinity, that might be in the lines of sight to the receiver, that a particular location might be able to provide. As it scans for these it sends out its encrypted authorization code, and then blends a composite recording of the best mix available. This recording would then go to that person's ongoing daily accumulation of experience, as they tend to the affairs of their life.
After each day, erything accumulated would be stored on personal home servers, of some type, as sacrosanct private data. Nobody but the person themselves could view this data unless provided with a court order to do so, and then only for specific times, in specific places, because there was enough probable cause to warrant scrutiny. And even then, at least in the preliminary phases of disclosure, AI systems could do the scrutinizing so as to simply provide matters of fact; was a person at a particular place at a particular time? Did they interact with particular other individuals? And perhaps an objective outline of the things actually done in any particular place could also be generated by the AI.
All of this information, then, could be review before any direct access was granted at all. If the answer to these preliminary questions proved affirmative for the illegality that might be in question, only then would the pertinent sections of actual recordings be made available as actual evidence in court.
There would obviously be entire arrays of cautionary concerns to deal with in such a large scheme. The encoding schemes, and encryption. Built in integrity at the level of manufacture so that tampering would be made as nearly impossible as imaginative engineering, and practical limitations of implementation, would allow for. Making sure that everybody's data is backed up whether the individual remembers to do it or not. Structural formulations in the way the data is created, and stored, that would make it impossible to alter at the point of home storage, etc. But if it could be done, with enough safeguards in place, it might just be something of immense value for all of us; and not just for security, or the resolution of of other legal disputes.
I mean seriously. A society that already goes overboard on recording the things they do? The degree to which we're willing to look really stupid in getting the next selfie? Are you kidding me? Can you even imagine what it might be like to have your entire life's set of occurrences recorded without fail? In high res and from every angle possible? And all of it available only to you, to do with as you felt was appropriate (except alter it naturally).
Just something to think about. Something we ought to think about because, one way or another, this penchant to want to keep track of what's going on around us isn't likely to ever go away. And either we do it with our concerns integrated into the mix at the get go, or we end up with something not only very pervasive, but also very repressive.