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Eyes in the Sky by Arthur Holland Michel

Social sciences

Eyes in the Sky

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We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Arthur Holland Michel, on your first book!

by Arthur Holland Michel

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Quick take

How a wartime invention became a peacetime weapon.

Synopsis

Eyes in the Sky is the authoritative account of how the Pentagon secretly developed a godlike surveillance system for monitoring America's enemies overseas, and how it is now being used to watch us in our own backyards. Whereas a regular aerial camera can only capture a small patch of ground at any given time, this system—and its most powerful iteration, Gorgon Stare—allow operators to track thousands of moving targets at once, both forwards and backwards in time, across whole city-sized areas. When fused with big-data analysis techniques, this network can be used to watch everything simultaneously, and perhaps even predict attacks before they happen.

In battle, Gorgon Stare and other systems like it have saved countless lives, but when this technology is deployed over American cities—as it already has been, extensively and largely in secret—it has the potential to become the most nightmarishly powerful visual surveillance system ever built. While it may well solve serious crimes and even help ease the traffic along your morning commute, it could also enable far more sinister and dangerous intrusions into our lives. This is closed-circuit television on steroids. Facebook in the heavens.

Drawing on extensive access within the Pentagon and in the companies and government labs that developed these devices, Eyes in the Sky reveals how a top-secret team of mad scientists brought Gorgon Stare into existence, how it has come to pose an unprecedented threat to our privacy and freedom, and how we might still capitalize on its great promise while avoiding its many perils.

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Get an early look from the first pages of Eyes in the Sky.

Eyes in the Sky

Introduction

On a clear day in the spring of 1862, two orbs rose quietly into the skies above southeastern Virginia. For the soldiers in the Confederate encampment below, it must have been a wondrous, if demoralizing, sight. These strange forms were Union hot-air balloons, each with two observers in the basket, spies in the firmament. If the observers had cameras—and word was that they did—they would be able to produce perfect records of what they saw, instant maps of the Confederate positions that would soon, no doubt, be conveyed to the upper reaches of the Union Army’s chain of command. “We watched with anxious eyes their beautiful observations as they floated high up in the air,” Confederate general James Longstreet later wrote of the encounter. To Longstreet and his troops, it was clear they were witnessing a turning point in the history of war. It was also clear that there was nothing they could do about it. The balloons, Longstreet lamented, were “well out of range of our guns.” One hundred and fifty-five years later, on a searingly hot afternoon in June 2017, Steve Suddarth, a former US Air Force colonel, is radioing air traffic control for clearance to take off from Albuquerque International Sunport, the city’s main airport. The flight, he tells the tower, is a “photo mission.” Riding shotgun in Suddarth’s white single-prop Cessna, I am not sure I would have used such a mild term to describe our plan. The plane is equipped with a military-grade surveillance camera, and we intend to watch wide tracts of the city in a way many of its residents probably never imagined was even possible.

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Why I love it

Whether you’re a full-blown conspiracy theorist or only occasionally talk to the FBI agent watching you through your laptop, chances are you think you’re being surveilled by the U.S. government, a major corporation, or both. And you wouldn’t be totally wrong.

Eyes in the Sky is a fascinating book about one such surveillance technology that is already in use. Nicknamed the Gorgon Stare, this system of cameras is capable of recording the small-scale activities happening within an entire swath of a city. Originally designed for the military, its domestic applications include things like improving traffic systems, policing neighborhoods, and corporate security. And guess what—it’s already in use, monitoring American citizens like you.

Yes, the scary potentialities of the Gorgon Stare are alarming, but Arthur Holland Michel—who is one of the world’s foremost experts on drones—has a lot of recommendations on how to harness this technology for the greater good and prevent its misuse. And while the history of how it came to be makes for a jaw-dropping read, Michel’s thoughtful ideas are what make Eyes in the Sky such a compelling book. Check this one out if you’d like to learn more about the real Big Brother, and how we can stop it before it’s too late.

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Evicted
On The Clock
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The Sky Is Falling
Eyes in the Sky