- Sarah Guo of Greylock Partners predicts that someday surveillance cameras will watch your every move and that it will change people’s behaviour.
- “There’s a saying, ‘You are who you are when no one’s watching,'” Guo said at a recent tech event, adding that she thinks “we’re going to be watched” all the time.
- China is already building a vast surveillance network designed to track all 1.4 billion citizens and rate their social citizenship.
An episode of Netflix’s show “Black Mirror” imagines a world where everyone is given a social score out of five.
The main character, Lacie, whose rating hovers around a respectable 4.2, becomes desperate to boost her score. She strikes gold when she’s invited to a social-media star’s wedding, where hobnobbing with “prime influencers” and posting perfectly filtered photos will surely juice her rating. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.
At a recent debate among top tech investors in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sarah Guo of Greylock Partners put out the idea that the future predicted by “Black Mirror” might not be so far off.
Smart cameras are blanketing the world, from the 170 million surveillance cameras in China used for tracking citizens to the facial-recognition security system in Apple’s iPhone X. These bring new levels of convenience, but Guo, who focuses her investments on cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, said that if people know they’re being watched, they may also change their behaviour – for better or worse.
“There’s a saying, ‘You are who you are when no one’s watching,’ but I think we’re going to be watched,” Guo said at the tech debate. “And I know that I’m going to change as a driver if all the cars around me are going to be rating my politeness and safety all the time.”
Each year, the Churchill Club, a 32-year-old discussion forum based in Silicon Valley, hosts a debate among some of the leading – and most opinionated – luminaries in tech and business. This year, five venture capitalists, including Guo, laid out their predictions for what nonobvious tech trends would emerge in two to five years.
Guo said it wasn’t unreasonable to imagine a world where people are rated by others and surveillance cameras based on good social citizenship, not unlike what happens in the season-three premiere of “Black Mirror.” A person’s ranking may determine, for example, whether they have access to a loan and at what interest rate, Guo said.
In the “Black Mirror” episode, Lacie sets out to increase her score after finding her dream home and hearing from the realtor that she can shave 20% off the rent if she boosts her rating above 4.5.
This sort of thing is already happening in China.
The most populous country in the world has deployed 170 million cameras since 2014 as part of a vast surveillance system it’s building. China wants to track all 1.4 billion citizens through a combination of facial-recognition technology, group-chat monitoring, and smartphone apps created by the state – and give people scores based on their “social credit.” People with good scores get rewarded, and those with bad ones are punished.
The program, which is mandatory for Chinese citizens, is expected to be fully operational by 2020, but it’s already being piloted for millions of people.
Building a ‘social credit’ system in America
The arrival of ubiquitous smart cameras in the US is inevitable, Guo said.
“If you live in an American city, you’re caught on a security camera about 70 times a day,” she said. “But most of these cameras have been dumb – eyes without brains, blindly saving images and videos to some server in some closet never to be seen again.”
But as cameras become cheaper and smarter, adding algorithms to understand the content they’re capturing, there will be an explosion of new consumer experiences built around facial recognition, Guo said. Cameras will power “seamless convenience,” like unlocking your iPhone X without entering a passcode or shopping at the store without having to check out. Cameras might capture memories from inside the home, “automatically saving clips of the milestones that you missed,” Guo said.
Her prediction caused anxiety for some tech investors who shared the stage at the Churchill Club debate. Nicole Quinn of Lightspeed Venture Partners said she was excited about the convenience provided by facial recognition but worried about its implications.
“Haven’t any of you watched the ‘Black Mirror’ episode?” Quinn said.
Tomasz Tunguz of Redpoint Ventures expects a full-blown rebellion if the government ever introduces a social-credit system in the US, saying the public would demand regulation.
Guo responded to their criticisms: “It’s not my fault what the future holds, so if it’s scary I apologise. But in all seriousness, I think there could be a backlash.”
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