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Philip K. Dick on Surveillance and Virtual Worlds

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1 Philip K. Dick on Surveillance and Virtual Worlds
Arthur Cockfield, Queen’s University Faculty of Law Human Autonomy, Law and Technology virtual conference March 18, 2010

2 Overview Two main views on issues surrounding human autonomy and technology: instrumental and substantive theories What would Philip K. Dick say about emerging surveillance society? Thoughts on use of ‘soft determinism’ at the intersection of law and technology

3 Do machines control us? No! According to instrumental perspective as parodied by Dick in a 1954 short story called Souvenir: “The machine is a development of the tool… A stick becomes a tool, a simple machine, in the hands of a man reaching for something…Man is the tool-making animal. The history of man is the history of tools into machines, greater and more efficient functioning elements. If you reject machinery you reject man’s essential key.”

4 Technology Makes It Harder to Perceive the ‘Truth’
Substantive theories of technology worry that machines are our true masters (e.g., Heidegger, Ellul) Common theme in Dick’s works, in particular his views on mixed or simulated realities (like Second Life) where he worried that we are somehow becoming less human New generation of fiction writers pick up Dick’s themes on ways that technology erects barriers to perceiving the Truth like Jonathan Lethem’s novel Chronic City (2009)

5 What would Dick say about Surveillance Society?
1974 interview: “Paranoia, in some respects, I think, is a modern-day development of an ancient, archaic sense that animals still have that they’re being watched. It’s a lingering sense, that we had long ago, when we were—our ancestors were—very vulnerable to predators. [O]ften my characters have this feeling. But what really I’ve done is, I have atavised their society. That although it’s set in the future, in many ways they’re living like our ancestors did. I mean, the hardware is in the future, the scenery’s in the future, but the situations are really from the past.”

6 Dick on Surveillance (cont.)
Explored in Dick’s masterpiece A Scanner Darkly (1977) Upsides: surveillance through holo-scanners gives main character (Bob Arctor) feelings of security, even love Downsides: leads to ‘social sorting’; increased paranoia; hostility against police; loss of identity

7 Surveillance May in Fact Distort Truth
Comfort of technological certainty (or ‘truth’) via surveillance recording may be misleading: “What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Into the heart? Clearly or darkly?… Because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. Only murk …[I]f the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that fragment wrong too.”

8 Social scientists also worry about Surveillance Society
Reduces freedom of expression and ability to engage in political dissent, right to be free from religious, racial or ethnic profiling, etc. May reduce ‘social value’ of privacy (Regan 1995) and, by eroding democratic values, make us less secure in long run

9 How to evaluate new surveillance technologies?
Two stage analytic framework: (1) in specific issue before court or policy maker, does technological change subvert traditional interests protected by law; and (2) if yes, then pursue innovative legal solutions that are less deferential to precedent (Cockfield 2003) Framework informed by ‘synthetic’ theory of law and technology that combines instrumental and substantive theories of technology (Cockfield and Pridmore 2007)

10 Soft Determinism? Soft determinism maintains that technological developments are embedded in social, political, economic and other processes and serve to guide and, potentially, configure future actions and relationships with these technologies, but individuals and groups can still exert control over these technological developments. Could inform synthetic theory or some other theory of relationship between law and technology

11 Conclusion: Back to Philip K. Dick
Channeling ghost of Dick (and incompatabilists and determinists): it is an illusion to think we can somehow forecast or properly gauge the relationship between technology change and complex human institutions such as law as the determining power of technological structure may be masked within other processes Agree process fraught with peril, but at least by focusing on complexities, informed by theory of law and technology, we have better chance at attaining ever-elusive ‘Truth’ (aka optimal law and policy)

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