We are fast approaching the technological and political realization of George Orwell’s dystopian promise for humanity. In the classic work 1984, Orwell describes a tightly controlled future where technocratic elites have stamped out individualism with total information awareness and total surveillance from the home, to the office, to the street.
There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever the wanted to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized. ~ George Orwell, 1984
As consumers sheepishly allow smart devices into their homes, real-time audio and video of personal space is being uploaded to the Web for use by corporations and government. The encroachment into the home with this two-way monitoring is unsettling, but for years new we have been witnessing the explosion of CCTV cameras on the streets of major cities around the world.
Now, couple CCTV cameras with artificial intelligence enhanced facial recognition technology and you have precisely what Orwell warned us of.
A recent BBC exposé into the network of facial recognition CCTV cameras in China’s biggest city, Beijing, shows us just how effective this network is identifying, tracking, and interdicting any targeted or wanted individual within minutes. This is in a city with a whopping 21.5 million residents.
This is all the more unnerving when you factor in China’s progress in developing a system of ranking individuals based on a citizen score linking social media and big data to create a digital caste system for human beings. Something akin to a credit score showing your loyalty to the state.
This vision is put into words here by Wired magazine:
Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It’s not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date. [Source]
Is this the model for the rest of world?
Take a look at how this system works, then ask yourself if you are ready to submit to living in a world where your every move is tracked and databased by an all-seeing government security apparatus.