How Cameras Everywhere Can Make the World a Better Place

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2016-08-25 Print this article Print
Cameras Everywhere

That's why people are polite in an elevator, but rude in traffic. In an elevator, the close quarters forces people to be very civil for a few seconds—holding the door for each other and speaking respectfully and politely to one another.

In traffic, the idea is that we'll never see these people again, so why not flip them off, cut them off or tailgate? Yes, most people are civil drivers. But in an elevator, everyone is civil.

The great thing about cameras is that, in a globalized, mass-population world, cameras give us the potential for village-like or even elevator-like accountability.

For example, my guess is that the people abusing teenagers in Australia would not have done it if they knew video of their actions would spread around the world.

I'm a big fan of the Ring Video Doorbell, which mounts in the same place a regular doorbell would be installed. It records video of any motion and records video when someone presses the doorbell. The bell rings both in the house and on the app, and you can talk to people as if you're inside using an intercom. The video is uploaded to the cloud in real-time, so even if the camera is taken or destroyed, the video is retained.

The camera is obvious on the Ring doorbell, and that's one of the things I like about it. I don't want a spy camera. I want everyone coming up to my door to know that whatever they do, they'll be held accountable for it. Still, thousands of people are getting caught with this product stealing packages, breaking and entering and other nefarious actions.

Imagine if every home had a camera like this and everyone knew it. Sure, crooks would wear masks and commit burglaries. But the casual kind of petty sociopathic behavior—stealing packages, defacing doors or stealing Halloween candy—would pretty much end. Those are the actions of people who believe they're outside of the village's scrutiny and, therefore, won't be held accountable for their actions.

In fact, I'd love to see a lot more cameras in the world. All police should have body cams. All police interrogations should be recorded and the recording made available to the accused. Courtrooms should have publicly available cameras. In fact, in any situation where the powerful can victimize the powerless, cameras should be rolling.

Of course, we need to protect private spaces from invasion from illegal and unethical snooping. Baltimore's use of aerial surveillance into people's backyards was a clear violation.

How We'll Adjust to a World Full of Cameras

There are some ways in which humans change and evolve to cope with changing technology and other ways in which humans will never change.

I think it's likely that, over time, we'll adjust to the ubiquity of horrible videos online and learn to understand that the most entertaining videos and pictures don't reflect the reality of the world, but are exceptions to normal activity.

Likewise, I don't think humans will evolve to become universally moral and compassionate. Therefore, we'll ultimately benefit from the ubiquity of cameras in a way that makes people behave more civilly and ethically because of the knowledge that they’re being watched.

That change in behavior won't come about from the invasion of privacy or the existence of hidden cameras, but from the expectation that we'll all be held accountable for our actions in public. If you don't do anything criminal, misanthropic or malicious, the video will be ignored and deleted. If you do something harmful against another person, that action will be proved by the cameras beyond any doubt and you'll pay the price.

Every new technology involves some kind of new trade-off. On balance, cameras everywhere in public specifically used for protection and transparency will make the world a better place by holding people accountable. We'll treat each other as we do in elevators, rather than on L.A. freeways—or as in a small village, rather than in a vast city like New York.

And that's a better world.


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