The world draws ever-closer to the dystopia imagined in Hollywood blockbusters -- police in London are to be equipped with head-mounted cameras which will record everything in the direction the officer is looking. The tiny cameras are about the size of an AA battery and can record images of an extremely high quality.
Claimed to be a deterrent for anti-social behaviour, the first run of head-cams are being tested by eight Metropolitan beat officers this month. If successful, all police officers will eventually be equipped with a head camera.
These new 'robocops' add to the growing number of surveillance machines that peer at the public. Cynics argue that the logical progression of the police head-cam will be head-cameras that all citizens are required to wear. The video data would be relayed back to a central database where transgressions are recorded by a computer.
Simply by looking at someone you would be, by implication, surveilling them. George Orwell imagined a future where people were coerced to inform on each other, but what if informing on someone required no complicity with the government?
You could inform on a fellow citizen with nothing more than an accidental glance. Witnesses to a crime would have pre-emptively testified to the guilt of the perpetrator via their head-cams. Anything beyond the hi-def widescreen shot you'd framed would be considered irrelevant to the prosecution. Prosecutors could use sophisticated video editing packages like Final Cut Pro to add flashy transitions and a dramatic soundtrack to make a crime seem more heartless and bold to a jury.
Critics argue that a completely surveilled society would save massively on the cost of court cases because testimony would become moot in a world with 100 per cent CCTV coverage. But we've all seen Minority Report -- all it would take is one man with an ability to manipulate the precog's visions.
Hot on the heels of the robocop announcement comes the news that phone boxes in London will be turned into giant memory sticks for nearby CCTV cameras. The falling numbers of people using public phone booths, caused by the rise of the mobile phone, means than many of them will be used to house digital video recorders.
Video of suspects performing their suspicious acts will be instantly relayed to police forces around the country. Initially the scheme is being tested in Tower Hill, right outside Crave's office. A BT spokesperson told reporters, "The current climate of unease with regards to the safety of our streets has led to a need to expand the CCTV network across the country."
Technologies that once seemed restricted to the safe enclaves of the local multiplex are slowly seeping out into reality. Many of these newly arrived technologies were ridiculed in film. RoboCop was a satire designed to shame the idea that a society can engineer safety purely through sufficiently advanced technology.
Unfortunately, some politicians have misinterpreted RoboCop as a utopian blueprint and seem intent on enacting every detail of the script. How long before ED-209 is roaming the streets of Kensington and Chelsea, gunning down immigrant shoplifters to the whooping, cheering and jangled jewellery of the local aristocracy? -Chris Stevens