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‘Authoritarianism is easier in a world of total visibility’: WEF report

authoritarianism wef report
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Weather wars, authoritarian surveillance, social control, and more are “Future Shocks” that could fundamentally destabilize the world as we know it, according to the WEF.

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) is currently underway in Davos, Switzerland, but a week before the event, the WEF Global Risks Report 2019 was published identifying weather manipulation tools, social control through biometric surveillance, AI “woebots” that can feed on human emotions, and more as “Future Shocks” that could forever alter the course of human history.

“Authoritarianism is easier in a world of total visibility and traceability”

The WEF report for 2019 lists 10 “Future Shocks,” which are not predictions, but rather “food for thought and action” about current technologies and trends that have the potential to shake up society, for good or ill, in the very near future.

The 10 Future Shocks are:

  1. Weather Wars and the use of weather manipulation tools for stoking geopolitical tensions
  2. Quantum Computing, which will render current cryptography obsolete
  3. Vast Migration from rural to urban areas, potentially causing the erosion of the unity of the state
  4. Food Supply Disruptions that could induce trade wars or lead to biological attacks on crops in times of war
  5. Biometric Surveillance that allows for new forms of social control
  6. Water Shortages that could pose an existential crisis on all of humanity
  7. Outer Space becoming a contested space in the next arms race
  8. AI “Woebots” that mimic human emotion but could be used by governments to whip-up angry divisions
  9. Human Rights Violations where censorship, detention, or violence is the governmental norm
  10. Monetary Populism where central bank policies might be attacked by populist politicians as a globalist affront to national democracy

Since we at The Sociable like to focus on the technological side of things, especially as how it relates to social impact, let’s take a closer look at the Future Shocks that pertain more to technology.

Weather Wars: Manipulation Through Perception, Deception

weather manipulation
Cloud Seeding

“Weather manipulation tools— such as cloud seeding to induce or suppress rain—are not new”

Make no mistake, weather manipulation tools do exist, yet not a single government or group has claimed responsibility for using this technology as a weapon.

“Weather manipulation tools— such as cloud seeding to induce or suppress rain—are not new, but deploying them at scale is becoming easier and more affordable,” says the WEF Global Risks Report 2019.

How do they know that “deploying them at scale is becoming easier?” Is this a theoretical statement, or have they actually deployed them at scale?

What if weather wars were used to push a geoclimatic agenda in order to alter perceptions?

According to the report, “Perceptions would be paramount: a neighbouring state might see largescale cloud-seeding as theft of rain or the reason for a drought,” and “if states decided unilaterally to use more radical geo-engineering technologies it could trigger dramatic climatic disruptions.”

In 2015 The Guardian even reported that “A senior US scientist has expressed concern that the intelligence services are funding climate change research to learn if new technologies could be used as potential weapons.”

Quantum Computing Makes Cryptography Obsolete

quantum computing

While making something obsolete, especially in technology, is inevitable and often looked at as “progress,” there are current systems in place that could be negatively affected, and that includes privacy.

With quantum computing “many of the tools that form the basis of current digital cryptography will be rendered obsolete. Public key algorithms, in particular, will be effortlessly crackable.”

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If quantum computing is unleashed before current systems can adapt, it would leave a lot of sensitive information vulnerable to attacks. The victims would be private citizens, governments, and other entities.

“Quantum also promises new modes of encryption, but by the time new protections have been put in place many secrets may already have been lost to prying criminals, states and competitors,” reads the report.

Even today, encrypted data can be stolen, and even though the thieves may not know how to crack it, they can wait until quantum computing comes around in order to use it to hack into “historical data.”

Biometric Surveillance — Big Brother Police State

biometric surveillance

If you follow the news concerning big tech companies working with government agencies, then this will be all-too familiar. Employees at some of the biggest names in tech such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, have all recently voiced concerns about their companies’ use of technology for governments and law enforcement.

Read More: Big tech employees voicing ethical concerns echo warnings from history: Op-ed

“Facial recognition, gait analysis, digital assistants, affective computing, microchipping, digital lip reading, fingerprint
sensors — as these and other technologies proliferate, we move into a world in which everything about us is captured, stored and subjected to artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms,” according to the WEF report.

Read More: Is there nothing that can’t be faked with vocal, facial manipulation?

Just today, media outlets such as BGR and The Independent reported that an app was released in China that “involves a kind of public shaming for people racking up debt.

“A new app has been developed that Chinese citizens can access via the country’s popular WeChat messaging platform which will literally display a warning once they get within 500 meters of someone who’s in debt. The app has created what’s essentially a map of ‘deadbeat debtors,’ according to Chinese state media, and shows you the debtor’s exact location, though it’s unclear if the displayed information includes a name or photo.”

The WEF report adds, “authoritarianism is easier in a world of total visibility and traceability, while democracy may turn out to be more difficult—many societies are already struggling to balance threats to privacy, trust and autonomy against promises of increased security, efficiency and novelty.”

Whether massive surveillance will make private citizens turn on one another or whether it simply enforces the law with uncompromising accuracy, people would still live in fear of the police state.

AI ‘Woebots’ That Feed on Human Emotions

ai woebot

Perhaps the greatest technological debate of our time has to do with disruption from artificial intelligence. The argument is divided over those who see AI as a helpful tool that will make life easier for us all and those who view AI as the biggest threat humans have ever faced as we would become irrelevant and unable to keep up — turning us humans into house pets at best, or exterminated at worst in the event of a singularity.

Read More: The Artificial Intelligence Singularity and the Collapse of the World’s Money System

“In time, the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) ‘woebots’ and similar tools could transform the delivery of emotional and psychological care—analogous to heart monitors and step counters,” according to the WEF report.

If an AI is able to understand and even mimic human emotion, it can also manipulate that emotion. This ties into one of the least-understood facets of machines and that concerns consciousness. What is intelligence without consciousness? What are the repercussions? Mythology is replete with examples if you look to creation myths of the world.

Read More: The Story Of Artificial Intelligence As Told By The Ancient Mayan Popol Vuh

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“Consider the various disruptions the digital revolution has already triggered—what would be the affective-computing equivalent of echo chambers or fake news? Of electoral interference or the micro-targeting of advertisements?” the WEF report asks.

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New possibilities for radicalization would also open up, with machine learning used to identify emotionally receptive individuals and the specific triggers that might push them toward violence. Oppressive governments could deploy affective computing to exert control or whip up angry divisions.”

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is the editor of The Sociable. His passions include writing about how technology impacts society and the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and Mythology. Previously, he was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co