We have lost the sovereign ownership of our own image. Every day, our physical presence is captured by any number of proprietary image-recognition technologies. Even those who do not use the internet are subject to the same biometric capture systems as those who have actively chosen to engage with the digital world. Once an image has been captured and processed alongside other forms of metadata, we cannot control the proliferation of our likeness.
Security and law enforcement agencies as well as technology companies have created vast biometric databases powered by proprietary machine-vision algorithms that erode our agency to control the ways that systems see us. In Russia, social media users can now look up each other using the publicly accessible facial recognition tool FindFace, while half of adult Americans have their image in a law enforcement database. Our cities, streets, and cafés have been turned into the new information superhighway, but at what cost?
The capitalistic relationship between us and our technology has given rise to a new form of distributed governance. The absolute authority of the nation state, once the arbiter of social contracts, has been challenged by the rise of multinational technology corporations, which bring with them their own (proprietary) rules and norms. We are now viewed piecemeal by artificial intelligence algorithms that continuously process our machine-readable images, drawing inference, insight, and connections. These machines ultimately hold an increasing amount of sway over our ability to exercise self-determination.
Manufactured agency and extrapolated identity are at the core of a asymmetric, Wild West approach to ubiquitous technology. It is becoming increasingly difficult to love out loud, to live a life that is not captured. Without the emergence of a new social contract between us and our technology, we lose our ability to control our own destiny.