National Geographic : 2018 Feb
they are watching you 47 EARTH WATCHING system developed by UC San Diego researchers that tracks the nearly extinct vaquita porpoise in the Sea of Cortez. Or the “forest watcher ” cameras installed to help protect the shrinking timber- lands of Sri Lanka. “If you want a picture of the future,” Orwell darkly warned in his classic, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” This au- thoritarian vision discounts the possibility that governments might use such tools to make the streets safer. Recall, for example, the footage from security cameras that cracked the cases of the 2005 London subway and 2013 Boston Mar- athon bombings. Multitudes of more obscure episodes exist, such as that of Euric Cain, caught unambiguously on camera shooting a Tulane University medical student named Peter Gold in 2015 after Gold prevented him from abducting a woman on the streets of New Orleans. (Gold sur- vived; Cain received a 54-year prison sentence for a crime rampage that included rapes, armed robbery, and attempted murder.) At the Port of Boston, the Department of Homeland Security has tested a cargo-visualizing method invented by two MIT physicists, Robert Ledoux and William Bertozzi. Using a technique known as nuclear resonance fluorescence—in which elements become identifiable by exciting their nuclei—the screening device can, without opening a freight container, discern the elemen- tal fingerprint of its contents. Unlike a typical x-ray scan, which shows only shape and density, it can tell the difference between soda and diet soda, natural and manufactured diamonds, plas- tics and high-energy explosives, and nonnuclear and nuclear material. Does anyone doubt that a more closely inspect- ed world over the past 150 years would have been a safer one? We might know the identity of Jack the Ripper, whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and if O. J. Simpson acted at all. Of course, public safety has been the pretext for surveil- lance before and since Orwell’s time. But today such technology can be seen as a lifesaver in more encompassing ways. Thanks to imagery provid- ed by satellite cameras, relief organizations have located refugees near Mosul, encamped in the China’s first aircraft carrier built from scratch is launched in Dalian, a port city on the Yellow Sea. These images, taken by Planet’s Dove satellites, show the ship in a berth (far left), backing into the water (center), and docked (left). Planet can capture similar developments day by day, anywhere in the world.