Psycho-Pass is a Japanese anime which is set in the future depicting a dystopian Japan governed by an advanced pre-crime supercomputer. Citizens’ mental state and personality can be measured in numbers for which the record of their emotion, desire, social deviation and mental inclination is surveillanced by the artificial intelligent system.

 

As both a hard science fiction and social science fiction, Psycho-Pass questioned the risk, security, surveillance and the nature and implications of technology based on numerous criminological parallels it has referred to. The overt references to surveillance, actuarial risk assessment and the scientification of social control resonate with many classic essays including Deleuze’s essay on the rise of societies of control, Cohen’s work on ‘net widening’ ,Clarke’s work on dataveillance and Foucault’s work on the disciplinary society and panoptic regimes of surveillance. Although it drew inspiration from Western writers and theorists, it still reflects the context of low crime society like Japan in which it was produced. Its meditations on a technologically -facilitated low crime society are also transferable beyond Japan against the backdrop of other societies that already have a low crime rate.

 

Among the number of issues relating to the increasingly salient supersonic dimension of the technological unconscious, two stand out: its illustration of the criminogenic power of algorithms and its problematization of crime as a ‘measurable type’ and data object. 

 

When aligned with a pre-crime rationality, machine-learning algorithms may lead to the paradoxical situation of secondary deviance without primary deviance. Within the fictional Japan of Psycho-Pass, the artificial intelligent Sibyl System pronounced the most influence from Phillip K Dick’s dystopian works like “The Minority Report”. It perfectly illustrates the notion of “pre-crime”: strategies used by law enforcement agencies that attempt to stop crimes before they are committed. Psycho-Pass presents us the intervention in pre-crime that focuses on the emotional foreground of crime: the thought processes and emotions that precede and occur during a crime. It pictures a pre-crime society where the possibility of forestalling risks competes with and even takes precedence over responding to wrongs done. Each citizen’s risk of committing a crime is calculated through ubiquitous state surveillance. Criminal justice technologies are never impartial. They reflect the values and presuppositions their creators hold and programme into them. What the Syby System illustrates is that the technological unconscious is a political unconscious of values inscribed into technology. 

 

The Japan of Psycho-Pass is a society of algorithmic tyranny: a society where data about who we are becomes more important than who we really are or who we may choose to be when crime is datafied as data object. The boundary between committed criminal and potential criminal is blurred under this context. Rather than the citizen’s biographical self, motivations and desires, it is their datafied selves that is judged. A society of algorithmic tyranny is post-narratival: data speaks for us. In anime, characters are constantly checking their own Psycho-Pass readings, afraid that they may be labeled a “latent criminal” by Sibyl and targeted for emergency therapy. In placing faith in technology and allowing crime to become a data object, criminal justice is turned over to a critical form of algorithmic regulation that not only erases context, politics and narrative but also supplants human knowledge and decision making. Furthermore, the empathy and sympathy connections between human beings are also challenged under this kind of crime datafied system. Data-driven algorithms couldn’t judge the anti-social criminals who has no emotional guilty towards committing crimes.

 

References:

  1. “Algorithmic tyranny: Psycho-Pass, science fiction and the criminological imagination”
  2. Beer D (2009) Power through the algorithm? Participatory web cultures and the technological unconscious. New Media & Society 11(6): 985–1002. 
  3. Cheney-Lippold J (2017) We Are Data: Algorithm and the Making or Our Digital Selves. New York: New York