For as long as humanity has created tools, they have been an extension of us, and a reflection of our wants and needs. While the portrayal of A.I and CCTV, through the lens of pop culture, as having seemingly god-like omniscience may lack accuracy in certain regards, this conflict between reality and the reality Humanity hopes for tells the real story. Sometimes media exaggerates technology for a point, other times the technology has a (plot)hole for our heroes to exploit.
This blog will give a quick overview of some common depictions of A.I and CCTV for security purposes in pop culture, where they’ve lost the plot, where they’ve struck a chord, and what our thoughts on the matter are. Please note, this is a reflection of themes with limited examples. I have definitely missed some good mentions, movies, or series. This article is a way to start the conversation of how people view A.I and CCTV-related security technology, coming from the perspective of someone working in the Off-site Monitoring industry who also happens to be a pop culture sci-fi enthusiast.
The interplay between man, machine, and their limits has been going on as far back as Icarus in ancient Greece using technology (his DIY wings) to reach for the sun, and failing. In more recent media technology has been used to help our heroes overcome challenges (in the case of classic spy thrillers like 007 or Mission Impossible), or as the obstacles themselves (other classic spy thrillers like The Bourne series). Gadgets galore, layers of unknown and mystery woven into daily life, and the possibility of what the future may hold (good or bad). These aspects of technology have remained true since the inception of the genre of science fiction.
Lost the plot/ lost in the plot:
A.I and CCTV make irresistible cannon fodder targets for common TV tropes. When CCTV emerged as a technology it was undoubtedly shown to be old-school, isolated closed circuit recording style systems, and because people weren’t aware of the capabilities and limitations, the sky was the limit. Tracking and tracing of targets, no problem. Enhancing and further enhancing analog low-resolution, low-framerate recordings, no problem. Think CSI and the like. Not to bash this too heavily, I grew up on the stuff. In this case, while the use of tech was a bit laughable in the older seasons, the human story was ultimately the core of the show.
There are other examples where satire and technology are used. In this case, the capabilities of technology are highly warped for comedic effect. While the literal accuracy of the capabilities of these technologies goes out the window, the bizarre ways people use the technology, or think the tech is used remain comically accurate. Think of throwaway gags in the Simpsons or Family Guy where the government of a country has thousands of people monitoring everything everyone does online or in public all the time, highly inefficiently. Depictions like this are often why when people see CCTV cameras, they immediately think of traditional monitoring where overworked staff stare at screens for hours on end hoping to catch what they are looking for, or fall asleep from fatigue and boredom.
There are many modern movies and series that actually do a bit of research and try to subvert the above-mentioned tropes. Modern examples include Eagle Eye, Closed Circuit, Panic Room, and The Truman Show. Here the idea is that the main characters are either unaware of how entrenched the use of surveillance technology is, or are acutely aware and the plot is centered around avoiding detection or using the technology to avoid detection.
As much as we at Verifier believe that A.I and CCTV technology are useful tools to help keep communities and businesses safe and secure, there is a dark side to this technology that can’t be ignored. Dystopian media such as Black Mirror, V for Vendetta, and 1984 reflect many of the concerns and fears people have. Sometimes the media that depicts not only the dinky old-technology easily overcome by the heroes or amazing tech that the protagonists can overcome through sheer intelligence and skill, but the gritty underbelly of how this tech can be used if watchdogs aren’t paying attention or if this is knowingly done (pick any modern surveillance state), accurately show how powerful these tools have become in recent years.
Here is a quick snapshot of our irks when it comes to A.I for security purposes and CCTV in pop culture media:
The constant enhancement of everything. As though every camera has the same capabilities, and as though at a distance pixels miraculously self-divide into perfect HD renderings of the targets.
Too many or too few cameras, as long as it’s convenient to the plot. Also, the cameras are often placed in the most obvious and easy-to-reach areas, and never have tamper prevention or detection measures.
Laser beams. Need I say more!
No early warning detection, no off-site monitoring, no preventative security measures, no LPR (license plate recognition)!
Government tracking everything! We know how expensive receiving and addressing over-active alarms can get!
What does pop culture media get right?
It shows how ineffective traditional CCTV monitoring is.
It shows how isolated CCTV systems with no backup are vulnerable to crime.
The feelings people have surrounding the use of the tech.
How long it sometimes takes for On-site security to react to incidents, and the lack of accountability and reporting after the fact.
Why media make mistakes:
The writers don’t know how the technology works, or don’t care.
The focus on story over systems.
Technology is thrilling, and fear sells.
Comedic effect or satire.
How could accuracy improve the story?
Accuracy ups the stakes and adds a level of real threat and uncertainty for the characters, which adds to the suspense.
Accuracy can help us ask the real questions about our use of technology.
Accuracy can help subvert the old tropes, and replace them with new storylines, keeping people engaged. Black Mirror and other ‘near-future’ sci-fi shows are great examples of how if existing technology is used correctly or adopted more widely it can seem futuristic.
If used correctly, the portrayal of technology can be terrifying, enthralling, or used to really up the stakes. Technology is a representation of the future, and if people are terrified of the uncertainty of the future, overcoming technology gives people hope. Technology is neutral, we can use A.I to create art, make medical breakthroughs and a safer world, or use it as a weapon. With A.I, technology is more than a tool. More than something to be conquered and mastered. We need to humble ourselves and learn to work together with advancing technologies if we are to solve any of the problems facing us.
We at Verifier hope, that we can overcome our own nature, and join forces with technology for a brighter future. Our needs shape our tools as our tools shape us. Pop culture and mass media is one such tool, that we believe could use a bit of sharpening to show how cutting-edge Off-site CCTV and A.I technology for security purposes has become.