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If you’ve left your house since this morning — perhaps even if you haven’t — odds are you’ve already been captured on camera, probably more than once.

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In fact, studies have found that the average city-dwelling American is captured on camera an average of 75 times in any given 24 hour period. This is, of course, in addition to the #selfies and user-generated imagery we voluntarily upload each day to apps and other social networking platforms. For any young person in the connected world, cameras are now a natural part of the ecosystem.

The ubiquitous recording of real-time events has undoubtedly changed the world, contributing untold depths to society’s knowledge about what happens everywhere, to everyone, all the time. Many companies are racing to combine machine learning algorithms into surveillance camera devices, giving them the ability to analyze the images they see and collect.

Once cameras take on more AI-capabilities and become more “sensing” rather than “imaging” devices, understanding that they can understand our movements and identities, we will have come that much closer to mechanically replicating the biological wonder that is human sight.

It’s clear as day that cameras have taken on a central role in our quest for greater public safety, and the modern world relies on video as a gold standard for evidence. Because the modern camera has evolved to the point of being invisible, it is impossible to say how many cameras — surveillance or otherwise — are currently in operation in the United States.

There were, as of 2009, an estimated 30 million security cameras recording more than four billion hours of footage each week. Of course, that number has unfolded countless times in the intervening years. The market has expanded beyond commercial, retail, and industrial security cameras into the sophisticated realm of home security cameras, where many of today’s most significant developments in AI, facial recognition, and sensor technology are currently underway.

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To See and “Be Seen”

Where else do we use the power of vision? The growing smart home industry asks with curious eyes. In our world now, where to be seen is to be heard, known, and recorded, the best defense is simply to see for yourself. 

Internet-enabled cameras do much more than protect your home from robberies. A “smart” camera can connect quickly to a smartphone, making it much more than a stationary, passive security measure and more like a second pair of eyes that can be accessed from virtually anywhere. You can use a smart camera to check in on your children or monitor an aging or disabled loved one, check to see whether your package has arrived in the mail, keep tabs on a babysitter while you’re away, or even take a peek at the person knocking on your door.

Camera technology can also be implemented at a much lower cost than any other type of video. When used in tandem with other connected home components like Internet-enabled lighting and door locks, a controlled network of cameras allows for ample personalized protection and property surveillance.

Seeing Beyond Surveillance 

It’s a scenario that would have been unthinkable just decades ago — that is, outside the script of a John Carpenter movie.

An advanced analytics algorithm, sifting through video from hundreds or even thousands of cameras, is able to pinpoint a suspicious-looking package left on a subway platform. After identifying the point when someone put the bag down, additional algorithms pick out facial features and other distinguishing information and cross-reference them with dozens of public and private databases to find the person’s identity.

Another camera elsewhere in the city spots the same person, alerting authorities to the person’s whereabouts and leading to a quick arrest. While the technology is still in its embryonic stages, machine learning and sophisticated computer algorithms have brought us closer than ever to the reality of a surveillance network that can use facial recognition, gait analysis, behavioural analysis, and other forms of artificial intelligence to extract a tremendous amount of information from live and recorded video.

Protection, Privacy, and Personhood

It isn’t quite Skynet, but the rapid increase in both public and private surveillance raises thorny issues surrounding the right to personal privacy and the protection of civil liberties. When you venture into public areas, the ubiquity of security cameras means you no longer have the expectation of anonymity. Smart cameras also raise a new threat of hacking, as many Internet-enabled cameras are poorly secured and unencrypted. This leaves open the possibility that cameras, microphones, and other attachments could be used for nefarious means even without the owner’s knowledge or consent.

As our world becomes ever more interconnected via wireless technology, the role of the security camera in both public and private life takes on an increasingly significant role.

“Smart,” self-regulating automated cameras, employing cutting-edge artificial intelligence and utilizing the full power of the web, offer a great deal of promise in addressing threats more quickly and efficiently. They also add another layer of vigilence to our world, one which steps beyond the capabilities of human sight. Our technology may be progressing more quickly than our capacity to implement and manage it, and this — depending on who you ask — may represent anything from a minor technical hangup to a fundamental threat to individual rights. A Brave New World is on the horizon, but it remains to be seen whether we’re ready for it.

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