One of history’s hard lessons is that collapsing financial systems beget authoritarian politics.
Today’s world, alas, is following this script, as rising debts lead to wrenching political changes in nearly every country that holds free elections, while fascism and socialism are once again being taken seriously by people who in normal times would inhabit the political center.
But there’s one big difference this time around: the advanced state of social control technology. Past governments, when trying to tamp down dissent, were limited to blunt-instrument policies like curfews, phone taps and press shutdowns. Today’s would-be Big Brothers can do vastly more, and in many cases will use the coming financial/political emergency as an excuse to place Orwell’s proverbial boot on their citizens’ necks.
Some examples from a recent Wall Street Journal article titled The Autocrat’s New Tool Kit:
• Chinese authorities are now using the tools of big data to detect departures from “normal” behavior among Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang region—and then to identify each supposed deviant for further state attention.
• The Egyptian government plans to relocate from Cairo later this year to a still-unnamed new capital that will have, as the project’s spokesman put it, “cameras and sensors everywhere,” with “a command center to control the entire city.”
• Moscow already has some 5,000 cameras installed with facial-recognition technology, and it can match faces of interest to photos from passport databases, police files and social media.
But scary as these things sound, they’re crude compared to what’s coming. From the same WSJ article:
“Microtargeting” enables governments to build personality assessments of citizens and tailor propaganda for targets’ psychological weak spots. Russia’s Internet Research Agency reportedly harvested data from Facebook to craft specific messages for individual voters during the 2016 US presidential race. Private firms are developing artificial intelligence that can automate this customization for whole populations.
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