We’re sleepwalking into digital authoritarianism because people think it can't be real
They think it sounds too much like a conspiracy theory
In recent years, we’ve seen a pattern across the western word. Living standards have been falling and authoritarianism has been increasing in so-called liberal democracies, as highlighted in this report from the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. Yet when you highlight the trend and point to its logical conclusion, they think you’re crazy, even as academics consider the threat of Digital Authoritarianism.
What’s weird is the people who think you’re crazy will acknowledge bad things are happening as long as you highlight them in isolation.
For example, they will acknowledge the Tory government’s draconian anti-protest/spy cops bills and their crack down on peaceful protests. They will acknowledge voter suppression techniques like voter ID laws. They will acknowledge police violence at peaceful protests. They will acknowledge the wrongful arrests of peaceful protesters. They will acknowledge the jailing of journalists like Julian Assange and the harassment of journalists like Kit Klarenberg. They will acknowledge that mainstream journalism is too often state propaganda. They will acknowledge mass surveillance of the public revealed by whistleblowers. They will acknowledge the government lied their way into illegal wars. They will acknowledge western-backed coups in resource-rich nations. They will acknowledge war crimes and extraordinary rendition. They will acknowledge the torture at Guantanamo Bay. They will acknowledge the social media censorship of anti-establishment voices who highlight these things, and yet, when you piece everything together and say this looks like authoritarianism, they will say no!
The problem gets worse when you tell them what’s coming next. You highlight digital ID, which is already operational in some places and on its way to the UK, and you explain the many ways such technology could be abused, and they think you’re crazy! What’s worse is you show video footage of spokespeople highlighting the dangers as selling points, such as banks deciding what you can and can’t purchase, and it still does not register.
That level of control sounds too crazy to be real, especially when you consider the emergence of god-like AI that’s got its creator so spooked, he’s telling us not to bring children into the world.
Sometimes what I highlight sounds scary not because I want to scare you, but because as a science-fiction writer, it’s my job to identify when science-fiction possibilities are becoming reality so we can push back. It’s important to understand science-fiction is not just escapism, in many cases it’s prophetic.
If we don’t push back, we are putting far too much faith in leaders who’ve shown they’re capable of horrible things.
Facial recognition cameras are everywhere with technologies like Facewatch, yet people don’t grasp how widespread they are or what this means. They don’t understand we’re on the brink of a society where your face is recognised everywhere, Minority Report-style. Even as the technology is operational and improving, many don’t grasp where this can lead, or they choose to stay in denial.
Facial recognition cameras were used to shut down the bank accounts of protesters in Canada (the country that euthanises poor people) last year. Bank account freezes could happen to anyone the government disapproves of in any country.
Even worse, France is talking about shutting down social media, or even the entire internet, when protests are taking place. Too many don’t understand western governments want to remove our right to protest, even as they introduce anti-protest laws. It sounds too authoritarian to be real. It’s too scary to consider where this might lead, and my point is we don’t have to find out. We can make a stand now.
Digital IDs and digital currencies are real. We’re openly told they can centrally track every transaction and cut off access to money at the push of a button. China is testing an expiration date on its digital yuan if money is not spent within a timeframe. There are video demonstrations of people using their digital ID to access buildings. It’s argued digital IDs should be mandatory to access services like healthcare to force adoption. They’re even using this coercion as a selling point to investors! They’re saying look how marvellous this technology will be for tracking your customers, and we know how stores love to harvest our data. Try going into Tesco and buying something without a ClubCard. You’ll get your fingers burnt!
Here’s a breakdown from the World Economic Forum where it says you will need a digital ID to open a bank account, access healthcare, book trips, shop, log into social media, and own and use electronic devices. It even states that service providers will be able to monitor your devices!
It’s worth noting access to any of these things can be cut off if your digital ID is suspended, meaning the government will have absolute control. It is up to the government how much it abuses that control. Do you trust them to be fair? I certainly don’t.
We’re entering a time when we will be watched continuously. The technology to monitor us is advancing to the point it can be centralised and AI can monitor you in real time. That’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s our coming reality. It doesn’t matter whether you consider it too scary to be real. It’s coming unless you say no loud enough.
It’s going to be much harder to act once these technologies are ubiquitous. Imagine how hard it would be to campaign for an end to CCTV or credit scores now they are part of the fabric of society. Soon society could be structured around digital currency/ID and facial recognition, and by soon, I mean this decade. The process is underway.
These emerging concerns were confined to the realms of science-fiction for so long, people assumed that’s where they would stay confined. They can’t comprehend science-fiction warnings that go unheeded can become reality. This is a big problem. We need to snap people out of this mindset because we can only prevent these risks with public awareness.
No one is saying all of these possibilities will definitely happen, only that technology is making them realistic and history shows bad people abuse their power. The world is full of powerful leaders who are evil. You need to look no further than our own borders. You need only look at the refugee prison ship, the draconian Rwanda scheme, the child starvation, I could go on. You just have to look at our history, how we once had a globe-spanning empire that many yearn to bring back.
The dangers of authoritarianism are ever-present and technologies will make authoritarianism dramatically easier. It’s your duty to grasp this fact.
To understand the dangers, you’ve got to understand history and human psychology. It’s a simplification to say authoritarianism happens because people who are evil seize power. It happens as a response to economic and environmental pressures and guess what? We’re entering a period of extreme economic and environmental pressure.
Europe is burning. We could be on the brink of widespread crop failures, famine, drought, shortage of resources, all while the world economy is fracturing. The dominance of the petrodollar is coming to an end. The unipolar world is over and this means we are losing our strangle-hold over developing nations that propped up our economies for centuries.
We are entering a time when we have less, but those in power are not willing to accept less for themselves. This means less for those who don’t already have enough. It means widespread civil unrest. The way to quell civil unrest is to give people some of what they want (not happening) or resort to authoritarian measures.
The establishment will either become authoritarian or it will collapse. At this point, I’m betting on authoritarianism because I worry the appetite to push back is not strong enough. Please tell me I’m wrong.