A Brief History of the Electronic Eye: Automation of Perception and Pattern Recognition

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Fernanda BRUNO, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In “The Electronic Eye”, David Lyon identifies one of the main axes of our surveillance societies: “precise details of our personal lives are collected, stored, retrieved and processed every day within huge computer databases belonging to big corporations and government departments”. If these processes were barely noticeable in 1994, when this seminal book was published, today they are patently present in the most different domains and experiences of our daily lives, as well as in the political and economic structure of contemporary societies. Although extremely attentive to the current processes of surveillance culture, Lyon's work has always sought the historical matrices of surveillance, especially those linked to modernity. In line with this historical perspective, in this paper I propose to present a modest and specific history of the electronic eye. This history is motivated by the increasing presence of algorithmic processes for detecting or extracting patterns in several spheres of life: communication, consumption, transportation and urban displacement, health, leisure, education, credit, war, security etc. How are machines trained to recognize patterns in life? What are the goals at stake? According to which aesthetic and epistemological principles? Which elements are privileged in the algorithmic detection of patterns? What kind of images result from this process? To answer these questions we will see how the automated perception of patterns has been legitimized as a model of rationality in the scientific field as well as in the marketing and military fields. Our brief history is composed of three moments which corresponds to three distinct forms of pattern recognition: the illustration of the scientific atlases of the eighteenth century; the composite portraits of Francis Galton in the nineteenth century; and the current pattern of life recognition algorithms used by military agencies.