Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish from 1975 was the first book to raise the question of the surveillance state. The book was about changes in the practice of punishment and how these illustrate the emergence of a modern disciplinary society. But disciplinary society was for Foucault also and above all a society of surveillance. Hence the French title of the book: Surveiller et Punir. Foucault brilliantly illustrated his point by recalling Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon – an architectural design of a prison, conceived by the utilitarian philosopher, that allowed for the continuous surveillance of the prisoners and for their disciplining. In his presentation of this conception Bentham had already suggested its wider uses in schools, hospitals, factories, and workhouses.
Our society has developed much further into a surveillance society since Foucault published his book and certainly since Bentham wrote his treatise on the panopticon in the late 18th century. This has not escaped the attention of social scientists and there exists now an extensive literature on the topic of surveillance. For all that, we still need to reflect much more on this theme.
A useful stimulus to this end comes from a new report on a further step in the development of surveillance drones in the form of robotic birds. In the US, Europe, and China this development is well advanced. The Chinese are, in fact, already using robotic doves extensively in their rebellious Xinyang province. It’s worth looking at this article and the enclosed video from the South China Morning Post: