Panopticonic Hyperrealities & Algorithmic Obedience 


With the advent of technological tools of mass communication and data collection platforms, individuals become subverted in digital spatiality with an emerging multiverse of panopticonic hyperrealities. 

Panopticonic systems emerged in the 18th century as a form of disciplinary behavioral design with the ultimate aim of enhancing an agent’s utility and docility in a given system. The original panopticonic prison design was inspired by slave ship blueprints in 1789. 

Figure 1. A plan of the British slave ship Brookes, showing how 454 slaves were accommodated on board.

“The panopticon is a type of institutional building and a system of control designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow all prisoners of an institution to be observed by a single security guard, without the inmates being able to tell whether they are being watched.”

Panopticonic architectural designs were created as a solution in clinical medicine, hospitals, factories, offices, and prisons. The architecture serves as a symbolic representation of a self-governing mechanism of power and a diagram of political technology. 

Figure 2. Plan of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon prison, drawn by Willey Reveley in 1791.

These designs have allowed disciplinary mechanisms to cross the technological threshold thanks to the right to observe and accumulate data on individuals. As algorithms become more advanced from mass data collection, this allows for the creation of digital avatars of agents that represents an accurate profile on an individual, with simulated future demands, needs, and risks. 

In the information society, where the creation, distribution, use, integration, and manipulation of information is a significant economic, political, and cultural activity, individuals become digital avatars acting as agents within a digital economy with information circulating as currency. A digital platform starts to serve as a centralized cultural narrative amplification mechanism with gamified incentives, creating panopticonic hyperrealities that self-regulate our thinking and behavior. 

Imagine being able to mold an agent’s behavior with personalized recommendations. With enough mass data collection, we find ourselves being able to create ensemble probabilistic forecasting of an individual’s range of probable future behaviors that cross the digital to the physical. One would no longer require audio surveillance of conversations for example, but can create simulations to accurately predict behavior with a minimal amount of data. 

Figure 3. Schematic taken from weather forecasting methods showing different types of uncertainty associated with forecasting behavior. 

Do personalized recommendations help us learn about who we are or ultimately shape who we are? Are we succumbing to algorithmic obedience through algorithmic curation? Do we find ourselves in the beginnings of probabilistic determinism where events within given multiverse panopticonic hyperrealities are bound by causality in such a way that any state an agent can be in is accurately determined by prior behavior? 

In the era of a mixed reality where lines are blurred between the real and the virtual, where everyday life is impacted by rapid technological change and an omnipresent computerized infrastructure, social media and the emergence of the Chinese social credit system are examples of how mass data collection can allow for population control. 

We’re subject to technology and organizational systems devised with the same reward system in animal experiments, prisons, or slot machines. 

Our digital identity defines who we are, what we want, what we think, what we have, and ultimately, who we will be. When we become uniform, calculable, we become predictable. 

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