I think most Americans realize that Big Brother is getting to be a bit intrusive. Our computer searches are mined for advertising information, Alexa listens to our conversations, our government has been known to listen to our telephone conversations. This is not headed in a good direction. However, it gets even worse when you consider the fact that the next step will be modifying our behavior to fit some ideal created by someone who believes he has the right to control everyone. Not a pleasant thought. Think it’s too farfetched? An article posted at Wired on January 23 might change your mind.
The article begins:
A friend of mine, who runs a large television production company in the car-mad city of Los Angeles, recently noticed that his intern, an aspiring filmmaker from the People’s Republic of China, was walking to work.
When he offered to arrange a swifter mode of transportation, she declined. When he asked why, she explained that she “needed the steps” on her Fitbit to sign in to her social media accounts. If she fell below the right number of steps, it would lower her health and fitness rating, which is part of her social rating, which is monitored by the government. A low social rating could prevent her from working or traveling abroad.
China’s social rating system, which was announced by the ruling Communist Party in 2014, will soon be a fact of life for many more Chinese.
By 2020, if the Party’s plan holds, every footstep, keystroke, like, dislike, social media contact, and posting tracked by the state will affect one’s social rating.
Personal “creditworthiness” or “trustworthiness” points will be used to reward and punish individuals and companies by granting or denying them access to public services like health care, travel, and employment, according to a plan released last year by the municipal government of Beijing. High-scoring individuals will find themselves in a “green channel,” where they can more easily access social opportunities, while those who take actions that are disapproved of by the state will be “unable to move a step.”
We do an awful lot of business with China. When trade was opened with China, the idea was that our form of government and freedom would influence their government in the direction of freedom. Somehow, based on this story, I don’t think that is what has happened.
Please follow the link above to read the entire article. There is no way I can summarize all of it, but I would like to share a few more points.
The article continues:
Perhaps we are reading the wrong books. Instead of going back to Orwell for a sense of what a coming dystopia might look like, we might be better off reading We, which was written nearly a century ago by the Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin. We is the diary of state mathematician D-503, whose experience of the highly disruptive emotion of love for I-330, a woman whose combination of black eyes, white skin, and black hair strike him as beautiful. This perception, which is also a feeling, draws him into a conspiracy against the centralized surveillance state.
The Only State, where We takes places, is ruled by a highly advanced mathematics of happiness, administered by a combination of programmers and machines.
The article concludes:
Beauty is the ultimate example of human un-freedom and un-reason, being a subjectivity that is rooted in our biology, yet at the same time rooted in external absolutes like mathematical ratios and the movement of time. As the critic Giovanni Basile writes in an extraordinarily perceptive critical essay, “The Algebra of Happiness,” the utopia implied by Zamyatin’s dystopia is “a world in which happiness is intertwined with a natural un-freedom that nobody imposes on anyone else: a different freedom from the one with which the Great Inquisitor protects mankind: a paradoxical freedom in which there is no ‘power’ if not in the nature of things, in music, in dance and in the harmony of mathematics.”
Against a centralized surveillance state that imposes a motionless and false order and an illusory happiness in the name of a utilitarian calculus of “justice,” Basile concludes, Zamyatin envisages a different utopia: “In fact, only within the ‘here and now’ of beauty may the equation of happiness be considered fully verified.” Human beings will never stop seeking beauty, Zamyatin insists, because they are human. They will reject and destroy any attempt to reorder their desires according to the logic of machines.
A national or global surveillance network that uses beneficent algorithms to reshape human thoughts and actions in ways that elites believe to be just or beneficial to all mankind is hardly the road to a new Eden. It’s the road to a prison camp. The question now—as in previous such moments—is how long it will take before we admit that the riddle of human existence is not the answer to an equation. It is something that we must each make for ourselves, continually, out of our own materials, in moments whose permanence is only a dream.
This is scary–not scary enough to get me to get rid of Alexa–but scary.