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Introducing the World’s Slowest Surveillance Camera (Results Expected in 100 Years)

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech


All images courtesy of Jonathon Keats.

Most art projects that address the surveillance state seek to draw attention to the existing security infrastructure that surrounds us. But a project launching this week in Berlin has a different approach — it adds new security cameras to the city environment.

The CenturyCamera, devised by “experimental philosopher” Jonathon Keats, is the object at the center of what’s billed as an “intergenerational surveillance program.” Designed to function like a very slow-moving pinhole camera, it focuses light onto black paper that fades over time, eventually producing a single image of what it’s pointed at — 100 years later.

Keats’ plan is to distribute 100 CenturyCameras to Berliners. These will be handed out on May 16, from 7 p.m. until midnight, at a reception organized by Keats’ partner team titanic at Friedelstrasse 29 in Berlin-Neukölln.

From there, it will be up to his participants to figure out the best places to stash the things (to capture a potentially interesting 100-year image, but also to make sure they’re not discovered and discarded).

They’ll also need to make arrangements with their kids, and their kids’ kids, for the collection of the objects in 2114: There’s an exhibit of the results scheduled for May 16 of that year.

“Mr. Keats does not plan to attend the 2114 event,” the announcement notes, “as he’ll be dead.”

Keats, via email, concedes that the cameras have not been definitively tested — no time! — but he fully expects them to work. And he’s not kidding when he argues that producing viable images in 100 years’ time is a worthy goal: The results will show a kind of slow-motion history, capturing what’s been razed or revised, and what hasn’t.

That said, there’s obviously something else going on here: “The way that people interact with the cameras today is as pertinent as the results a century from now,” Keats tells me.

“I find it encouraging that people are really agonizing over where they’ll stash their cameras. The place needs to be stable enough to support the capsule, and to conceal it well, and it must provide a view worth observing over the long term.”

How might the city change? What will the 100-years-away audience most want to see? The whole project seems to be producing, among those preparing to snap up a camera later this week, “a mindset of long-term thinking about their urban environment: what’s important to them, what they want to conserve, and what they’d like to see changed,” Keats says.

They will — most likely — never know how their choices panned out. But maybe that’s not so important as the prompt to think on a different scale of time. “Perhaps even more than the ominous quality of being watched over by unborn children,” Keats suggests, “this has the potential to impact how people live.”

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