Networked authoritarianism may contain the seeds of its own undoing

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/11/25/mote-in-the-cctvs-eye.html

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Hmmm.

yuck

Well, I certainly hope that never happens.

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This idea that AI could make authoritarianism work makes me think of the small part of Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalization that I watched. It contained the thesis that in the not too distant past we decided reality was too complicated and retreated into a fantasy world. There’s nothing remotely reality-based about the idea that AI might solve our problems and obviate the need for democracy. You can’t run your society off of Amazon’s “you might also like…” AI doesn’t give us what we want, it tries to make us want things we don’t.

But that aside, authoritarians are authoritarians because they want power. If algorithms are running the country then the authoritarian has ceded their power to those algorithms. And they won’t do that any more than Stalin or Mao ceded power to experts on farming.

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the seeds of its own undoing

Ok, I’m taking the rest of the day off then…

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Good point, although, of course, the person feeding the algorithm generally gets to say what it “decides”, so I don’t think that will really be a problem, in fact it’s already a feature for corporate authoritarians: “We’re not being racist and misogynist, we’re just following the algorithm!” See also, religion.

Do not spill them.

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But then that negates any advantage to be had from the algorithm. The whole idea is that the algorithms can create “a more efficient competitor that can beat democracy at its home game”. If the algorithm just says “Dear leader is right once again” then you don’t have “networked authoritarianism” you just have plain old garden variety authoritarianism. It’s the yes-men’s jobs that are in jeopardy.

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Too late…

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Speaking of algorithmic rule:

Yes men and bureaucrats, but you simply need a lot of the latter to have a functioning society, so if Kafka.dos is moderately functional, it’ll still be cheaper than a politbureau. Europe muddled along for 1500 years under kings as awful as Donald Trump and Popes as awful as Zuckerberg, so that kind of horror is perfectly sociologically stable. Of course, humanity and possibly life will perish in about 100 years (:100: years! Thanks Android keyboard!) due to climate change, but the algorithm and its beneficiaries don’t care about that.

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Is that the name of the new Steinbeck book?

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It turns out that authoritarian states get corrupted far more easily that digital data. Who’da thought…

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From the inside and so for about 1 Billion person, China is the safest place in the planet.
All bad news within the country are immediately removed and only the one from outside (Mainly the US) are broadcast.
AI is helping cleaning the news feed and is very good as doing so.
(Chinese) People and especially the millennial never saw what Google/Facebook/… are; so there is no more this idea of living under censorship. They feel safe and secure and are the best advocate to the regime.
Xinjiang or HK is not even on the news, they have no idea what is happening there.
Only when the CCP want some support, they play the propaganda video distorting some facts to get what kind of support they need.
A mainstream idea is that everything coming from outside China is fake news.
A Shanghainese will tell a HKgers that he knows what is going on in HK better than the one living there.
Any criticism and you are not a supporter of the regime.
I’m sorry, but I can only see how AI is helping this to work and will be disagree if someone says that China is not stable.

The brainwash start from school and will not be failing even in case of a sudden event.
100% of the information they received is modified, almost real time, even within the main app they have to use as the others are all blocked.

For example, they blocked “HK Independence” word in July, so your message is not sent (but you don’t know about).
And, when things got a bit more serious during this summer, Beijing were looking for support from the population; they claimed that HKgers where looking for independence.
So, they unlock these words to let their propaganda grow with why independence was not an option.
(IT’s interesting to notice that HKgers never asked for Independence)
You really have to witness this to believe it. This is much more than any movie you could think of.

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I have a niaive, unproveable, but persistent belief that most radical revolutions expire after a human lifetime - that is to say, after seventy-five years. That was pretty much the case with the Russian Revolution, and though there are plenty of counter examples, there are a few others that bear the idea out. I have a suspicion that the Chinese Revolution will collapse within the next fifteen years. Not that that will significantly change a lot for many of the people in China, but it will shift alliances in world politics. Could Hong Kong be China’s “Prague Spring”?

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That is some very scary stuff.

I’m still not convinced that the Chinese state is really very good at what it does. If they were good at what they do they wouldn’t have been taken totally off guard by the recent Hong Kong election results. Authoritarian leaders don’t want to hear bad news, they don’t want to hear people or algorithms tell them that their policies won’t work or that they are about to make a mistake. The algorithms are only going to give good advice if the advice aligns with “Xi is great!”

For those people who are living in the stable part of China, are they happy? As an example, do the tens of millions of young, straight Chinese men who face no prospect of ever having a wife or maybe even a girlfriend because men outnumber women so greatly in the fallout of the one child policy think, “Yeah, this is going great?”

Or another, do Chinese manufacturers who are rapidly burning bridges with foreign buyers because they don’t think there is any future for them think the government is managing things well? Do their employees?

If there is ever an authoritarian government that can run a state so well for its people that the people are actually happy with how things are going and don’t dream of anything better then I’d agree that authoritarian government is probably stable, but then we’re mixing up out dystopias with our utopias. Maybe one day computers will actually be able to craft a stable society for us, but 1) it can’t be in the service of an authoritarian ego or it is destined to fail; and 2) people will probably eventually rebel against it anyway.

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This reminds me of something that Kuhn might have argued.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/what-thomas-kuhn-really-thought-about-scientific-truth/

Kuhn described himself to me as a “post-Darwinian Kantian.” Kant, too, believed that without some sort of a priori paradigm the mind cannot impose order on sensory experience. But whereas Kant and Darwin each thought that we are all born with more or less the same, innate paradigm, Kuhn argued that our paradigms keep changing as our culture changes. “Different groups, and the same group at different times,” Kuhn told me, “can have different experiences and therefore in some sense live in different worlds.” Obviously all humans share some responses to experience, simply because of their shared biological heritage, Kuhn added. But whatever is universal in human experience, whatever transcends culture and history, is also “ineffable,” beyond the reach of language. Language, Kuhn said, “is not a universal tool. It’s not the case that you can say anything in one language that you can say in another.”

Thomas Kuhn --> Immanuel Kant --> Hannah Arendt?

Perhaps even “The Ideology of Terror”?

I seem to have suddenly assigned myself several thousand pages of reading material. Oops.

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If they were really good at propaganda, they wouldn’t have to do censorship.

China is already radically monstrous.

James Scott is amazing. If you like his work, I would say that The Art of not being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia was even more of an eye-opener than seeing Like a State

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This made me laugh because it make me think of Žižek. In the Parallax View Žižek essentially argues that reality is the difference between our different perceptions of the world. No matter how radical your idea, there’s always something more radical waiting to come along.

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https://www.cato-unbound.org/print-issue/487

(bunch of libertarians plus James Scott contribute material).

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Poul Anderson’s Sam Hall is nice look at the run-away paranoia that happens in a Total Surveillance Vortex. (Mentally update the technology; the story’s not really about that.)

Rather than a chief tech inventing a rebel, the Chinese will have AIs finding patterns that don’t really exist.

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deep dream a boot stamping on a human face — forever

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