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At the same time, working on the show had changed his sense of what’s alarming about the N. A.: his focus had shifted from privacy to prediction.“In an abstract, data-driven way,” he said, “Finch knows the likelihood of certain behaviors. What characteristics can be attributed to certain kinds of people.”In some of the best sequences in “Person of Interest,” we see images of characters overlaid with predictions about what they will do.(“That’s why the Machine is called the Machine,” Nolan added; they wanted an anodyne name, like Gmail.) Meanwhile, Plageman continued, “algorithms are being used to predict everything in terms of our taste, in terms of what we might like.Now our government is engaged in the same sort of activity. Edgar Hoover’s dream,” as Plageman puts it, but it’s also just one instance of a general principle: “The more information is available, the more people are going to try to seek it out and use it to their advantage.”At the heart of “Person of Interest” is a tension between power and powerlessness.(“Our own government has been spying on us,” he says, “and they’re trying to kill me to cover it up! Like the fictional Peck, Snowden had a youthful face, a swoop of brown hair, and an idealistic streak that seemed at odds with his job at a spy agency. The government ignores these predictions, and it falls to Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), the reclusive computer genius who invented the Machine, to respond.”) The episode, called “No Good Deed,” had aired in May, 2012. “We all came into work having read the article,” Amanda Segel, a writer and co-executive producer, recalled, “and we realized we had actually done an episode that mirrored this very real story in Season 1.” The writers spent the morning adjusting to the idea that their “grounded sci-fi” show had somehow become, as Segel put it, “more real.”In the article, Snowden said that he couldn’t, in good conscience, “allow the U. government to destroy privacy, internet freedom, and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” Since its première, in 2011, “Person of Interest” (which airs on Tuesdays at 10 ) has taken the idea of a surveillance machine literally: in the world of the show, the government has built a vast, artificially intelligent computer system called the Machine, which reads every e-mail, listens to every phone call, and watches every CCTV camera. In partnership with a former Special Operations soldier named John Reese (Jim Caviezel), Finch leads a vigilante team of hackers, cops, and former Special Ops personnel to stop the crimes before they happen.
For example: How are we to prevent other governments, or even private companies, from doing more or less what the N. The science-fiction part of the show is that the Machine is accurate, but the invasion of civil liberties is not imaginary.” Something like the Machine, he predicts, will be invented eventually: “If the legacy of the Second World War was the atomic age, then what might emerge from the war on terror would be artificial intelligence.”Nolan and Plageman tend to see surveillance as a kind of existential condition—“a crushing weight,” as Plageman puts it, “that’s just over us all of a sudden.” These days, they point out, we are always generating data about ourselves, sometimes on purpose but also in passing, as we use cell phones, swipe I. (Think, Plageman says, about all the times that you click “I agree.”) “People are being sold this idea that a computer, as opposed to a person or entity made up of people, is what’s processing the information, and that’s somehow more palatable,” Plageman said.
Because the show luxuriates in the minutiae of high-tech surveillance, many of its actors have a heightened awareness of the ways in which we can be tracked, hacked, watched, profiled, investigated, and bugged.
“ ‘Paranoid’ is probably the word I’d use,” the actress Amy Acker, who plays a hyperintelligent hacker named Root, said.
“I don’t have to be in charge of selling this concept—this ‘fictional’ concept—to anyone anymore….
It ain’t fiction, never was, and everyone knows it now.” Finch’s “choices and sensibilities,” he said, had been “confirmed” by real life.