'Person Of Interest' Creator Jonathan Nolan On Why We Should Be Paranoid (VIDEO)
There's very little you can do anymore that isn't being documented somewhere. "Person of Interest," a new drama on CBS created by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher), takes this idea very seriously. And Nolan thinks you should, too.
"In the last 10 years things just got weird," Nolan said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "The show takes that as a jumping off point. It takes the existence of the surveillance state for granted and asks the next question: What can you do with that information?"
On "Person of Interest," main characters Finch (Michael Emerson) and Reese (Jim Caviezel) receive the social security numbers of people closely involved with a violent murder -- either victim, or perp. The number is generated by a program Finch helped create, which uses an immense network of surveillance to find potential terrorists.
According to Nolan, that machine almost happened in real-life America. Nolan brings up a "60 Minute" episode about an National Security Agency project designed to devise a data-mining tool in the style of the program in "Person of Interest."
"The only sci-fi part [of the show] is that the government built something that worked," he says. "The more I've been working on it, the more I've been reading, the more frighteningly real are some of the aspects that we're portraying. It's unfortunately closer to reality than anyone expects."
These are not new ideas to Nolan, who has long been interested in the development of the technological spy-state.
"The sad truth is all of the stuff for the most part is true," he says. "It sounds like conspiracy theory when you tell someone that the government can turn on the microphone in your cell phone and listen to you whether you're using it or not, but it was headline news and then everyone went back to not giving a shit. We all use these things because they're convenient but we're all aware they can be used against us."
"Person of Interest" is his chance to spin out those ideas to their possible conclusions -- and to give his wife a break from having to listen to his theories.
"The Finch character came in part because my wife told me she was tired of hearing my conspiracy theories about the government's surveillance," he says, leading her to suggest that he channel those energies into a fictional character.
"Instead of expounding over the dinner table, I get to express it through Michael Emerson," he says.
But until the next exposè, for now "Person of Interest" is mainly interested in entertaining -- and provoking -- viewers.
"First and foremost, this is drama," he says. "We're asking questions, not providing answers. The spread of the modern panopticon is an odd, fascinating, potentially disturbing idea."
Check out a clip from tonight's "Person Of Interest":