Technology has finally caught up with science fiction. Your TV can watch you, as in 1984, and you can talk to your earbuds just like Montag’s wife in Fahrenheit 451. But will the government team up with tech companies to control every aspect of your life the way it did in those novels? If it does, what would that look like? In this Wired article, writer David Samuels explores the recent, potentially dystopian moves of technology companies and governments. He then examines these developments through the lens of philosophy and science fiction.
Technology companies are cooperating with foreign governments to create digital surveillance systems overseas.
China is implementing a “social rating system” with the help of data technology. Chinese citizens who make moves that please the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will end up in the “green channel,” enjoying eased access to employment, health care and travel opportunities. Meanwhile, those who displease the party will find their options limited in ways both big and small. For example, a person’s social rating affects whether they can leave China.
Citizens in Western countries may balk at the idea of a one-party government employing a system for social control, but their data is already collected, analyzed and sold for marketing purposes. The same US companies who currently sell user data in America are cozying up to foreign governments on more controversial projects. Google created Dragonfly for the Chinese government, a search engine that would curb access to information when a user searches for terms like “student protest” or “human rights.”
Some tech company officers have protested surveillance...
David Samuels’ work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired and N=1 among others. He has worked as a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, and a literary editor at Tablet.