In America, we know all too well how services like Twitter and Facebook have made it easier to speak your mind and have your voice heard. These kinds of social platforms are there for people to say whatever it is that they want. In many cases, what these people have to say is not always positive, but everyone is entitled to their own opinions. In China, however, this isn’t exactly the case. China is undergoing a tech boom, but innovation seems to be expanding in a different way. Instead of allowing for free speech and open platforms, the country is turning into an authoritarian tech dystopia. The first thought that comes to mind is George Orwell’s 1984, and the idea of “Big Brother”. The second thought that came to mind was when will this happen in the United States?
Already, local Chinese governments and schools have employed surveillance technology to do everything from fine residents for jaywalking to pinpoint an alleged thief in a 20,000-person crowd. Insane, right? On one hand, this is certainly going to make citizens abide by rules and regulations, but to what extent is this necessary? Why is the government so controlling that it needs to ensure that people aren’t jaywalking? In the grand scheme of thing, that kind of law is a bit arbitrary and doesn’t necessarily benefit society as a whole. That said, this technology could also be used for other reasons, and that is incredibly scary.
While the use of facial-recognition software has inspired some backlash in the U.S., China has rapidly embraced A.I.-based surveillance technologies to police its 1.4 billion people. By 2020, analysts estimate that China will have nearly 300 million cameras installed, and Chinese police will spend $30 billion on surveillance technology.
This is actually really scary. China is a semi-authoritarian state. Meaning the political powers are strong, but the political freedoms are limited. Individual freedoms are also limited, which means citizens have to abide by the rules set out by the government. China already has imposed restrictions on Internet use, which limits the information available to the public. And with few laws in place to protect consumer privacy, many tech start-ups are already handing their data over to the government, enabling a dystopian marriage of human policing and surveillance.
It’s not just about the fact that the technology is there to identify who is breaking these so-called laws. This also has a huge impact on the human psyche. Last summer, police posted a large, outdoor screen, which showed the photos, names, and government ID numbers of people who drove their cars too fast, or who had jaywalked at a certain intersection. Of course, the number of incidents quickly declined, but is this really the way to limit crime? What might be worse is that the reason why people stopped doing these things is that they feared their friends or colleagues would see their names and gossip about them. Instead of saying – this whole system is messed up – they are seemingly on side with it.
When will this happen in the United States? The answer is hopefully never. Or at least not to this extent. There are some tech companies in the United States who have tried to deploy similar products or software, but there was so much pushback from the public, they had to stop it. That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. I mean, the sheer fact that the U.S. government took children away from their parents speaks to the kind of government that we have right now. That’s why I’m not convinced that we won’t have this kind of problem ourselves in the next few years. I shouldn’t give anyone any ideas, but could you imagine having to think about where you’re crossing the street? Big Brother is definitely watching and I don’t want to be part of it.