Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Closing of the Map

Hakim Bey (www.hermetic.com/bey/) discusses the phenomenon of "the closing of the map"—that point at which the sensory apparatus of the market-state (see James C. Scott’s “Seeing Like A State”) becomes so pervasive that it effectively eliminates all spaces not under the purview of the market-state. It eliminates the Shangri-La, the Alamut, the Temporary Autonomous Zone—that place that one can exist outside the long reach of hierarchy.

Recently, a certain buzz has developed about Google Maps (maps.google.com)… I think that it is time to look at this for what it really is: the closing of the map.


The technical capability of such satellite imagery is not what is remarkable, or frightening (People with a background in military imaging will find it humorous that Google acquired Keyhole, Inc. in order to facilitate their new satellite imagery capability. See http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/imint/kh-12.htm ). What is alarming—or at least noteworthy—is the ease with which the public now has access to this kind of information. Commercial satellite imagery has been an exploding field for the past decade, and today there are numerous vendors for timely, high-resolution, unclassified satellite imagery. QuickBird even provides full color imagery with a resolution of 0.6 meters! The real advancement (and future leaps) in commercial imagery is in the ability to provide timely, tailored imagery. It has been possible to get old, archived imagery and aerial photos for a long time. But over the next few years the capability will emerge (or be refined, based on Google’s recent venture) to obtain Near Real-Time (NRT) imagery of anywhere, in high resolution, and in hyper-spectral format.

Like many things (remember that new-fangled world-wide-web?), this will start slowly. The new blog “Google Sightseeing” ( http://www.shreddies.org/gmaps/ ) is little more than a travelogue based on Google imagery. The blog ‘Defective Yeti’ has already produced a parody of the potential dangers: http://www.defectiveyeti.com/archives/001238.html . But this will grow. Police departments are already deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to provide real-time video feeds. How will the ready availability of NRT imagery impact the next iteration of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidians at Waco? Law enforcement is already toying with using multi-spectral imagery to auto-identify marijuana growth from other foliage via satellite imagery.

Scenario: Monsanto creates patented seed stock with a unique Multi-Spectral Imagery fingerprint—and then uses time-sensitive imagery to identify crops that “violate their intellectual property rights”, leading quickly to a military-style Time-Sensitive Targeting Kill Chain for aerial spraying or other forms of eradication. Even if the violation is caused by nothing more than wind-blown pollen, or is the only means of sustenance for a Third World village… It isn't that far fetched, based on what Archer-Daniels Midland is already doing.

The map is closing.

What options are available? If autonomy and freedom one day become predicated on an evasion of the sensory mechanisms of the state (See Theory of Power, Chapter 9), what can be done in the face of a sensory mechanism that is advancing exponentially?


Schuyler Erle said...

The map is also opening - Open Source GIS and open geodata policy activism is leading the way to turning the map from a read-only medium in the hands of a few experts to a read/write medium in the hands of anyone. The advance of technology can flow both ways. For our efforts in this domain, please see Mapping Hacks and OpenStreetMap.

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