People working in criminal law have been saying for years that Hollywood’s portrayal of forensic evidence has made it more difficult to prosecute criminals. They call it the “CSI Effect” named after a TV police drama. It is where jurors demand comprehensive forensic evidence, which effectively raises the burden of proof in criminal cases. Instead of eye witness testimony placing a suspect at the crime scene, jurors now expect physical evidence and testimony from an expert on the use of DNA to identify the suspect.
There’s no data to support this observation, but it is something that gets said a lot on TV, so everyone believes it. The increased expectation of what science can do has effectively raised the standard of proof. Another way to look at this is better technology has lowered the standard of trust. It used to be that people could trust themselves to judge the testimony of a witness. They could count on citizens being honest to them. Now, they want physical proof before taking the word of anyone in criminal court.
Of course, now that people in the legal system think this phenomenon is true, they operate on the assumption that no one will take anyone’s word for anything. That means the state invests in high tech forensic labs and pays a lot of experts to testify to jurors in criminal trials about the physical evidence. On the other side, the defense thinks simply being innocent is not enough, so they require experts and private labs to both provide an objective denial of guilt, as well as a counter to the state’s battery of experts.
It is a great example of how new technology can have unexpected results when introduced into a complex system like the criminal justice system. The underlying assumption of our system is that regular citizens can weigh the evidence and decide the guilt or innocence of the accused. Now the assumption is no one can weigh the evidence, other than specially trained experts. Technology has conjured into reality the idea of the fair witness from Stranger in a Strange Land.
The courtroom is not the only place where technology is causing us to lose faith in our senses. The advent of the hyperlink has made it so that any controversial assertion on-line is assumed to be false if it does not have a link to an authoritative source. In every on-line community you see demands for links to authoritative sources, whenever there is a dispute over something. These appeals to a neutral authority correspond to a decline in the lack of trust between people. It’s not true unless you have a link.
Something similar may be happening in the news. Take the Jussie Smollett incident in Chicago. Exactly no one believed him, because there was no video and no corroboration from a neutral technology source, like a cell phone camera. As soon as the cops revealed they could not find confirmation on their surveillance cameras, everyone just assumed it must be a hoax. There were plenty of doubters to begin with, given the number of prior hoaxes, but even the gullible are now expecting proof from technology.
The proliferation of cameras and now listening devices on public streets means it is increasingly difficult to do anything without being seen. Even if that is not true, it is assumed to be true. That means if there is no video, it did not happen. It also means if there is no video, there is no investigation, as the cops will soon figure out that it is waste of time to investigate crimes unless you can get video. The criminal mastermind of the future will be the guy who figures out how to avoid being identified by CCTV.
Another way the proliferation of technology changes social trust is seen on the college campus. In order to avoid being accused of rape, males now tape their interactions with coeds. They may have a buddy record audio so they can prove the encounter was consensual. Young people are growing up to expect everything to be recorded and to not trust anyone unless they can see video or hear audio. People mock the idea of getting consent in writing, but that’s probably better than everyone taping their encounters.
The other side of this coin is the casual way in which people allow themselves to be recorded by others. Every internet drama seems to involve one party publishing chats, video or audio of another party. Super villain Jeff Bezos is an obvious example. He broke the cardinal rule of super villains. Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod. Most important, never send pics of you wiener to people. He was cavalier about being recorded and now is the world’s silliest super villain.
The result of all this is two things. One is the total lack of privacy. The only place that will be safe for anyone to imagine bad things is in their own head. When the internet of things is quietly spying in every home, car and public place, there will no longer be the concept of privacy. Imagine a land where there are no walls and no clothes. Everyone walks around naked and in full view of everyone else. It sounds crazy, but people adapt. The citizens of the future custodial state will get used to a word without privacy.
The other thing is no one will take anyone’s word for anything. This will include people in authority. If you can’t trust your own senses, you’re unlikely to trust the senses of some guy on television claiming to be your leader. Civic duty will have to be replaced with some form of coercion. Perhaps nudge technology will reach a point where the nudged will think they are acting of their own free will. Maybe the people in charge will fit everyone with a WiFi enabled technology collar that ties them into the internet of things.
It is assumed that technological advance always improves the material world. It certainly seems that way. It’s possible, however, that the trade-off for technological advance is the decline in social trust, maybe even a decline in empathy. In order for these new technologies to thrive, people have to abandon their ability to share the feelings of others and maybe even abandon their sense of self. The future will be a world of indifferent automatons, living in glass houses, under the eye of the state.