Image: Big Brother Monitoring. Master Tux, Creative Commons.
The Panopticon Perplex – Big Other, 5G and the Telecom ‘Coup from Above’
Waking up Watched and Behaviorally Modified in Surveillance Society
By James Heddle – EON
[ Earlier versions of this article were posted on Reader Supported News and Columbus Free Press ]
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Every single day
Every word you say
I’ll be watching
Back in the 1780’s British social theorist Jeremy Bentham and his entrepreneur brother came up with a design for what they thought would be the perfect prison.
It consisted of a multi-storied outer ring of brightly lit prison cells, each with a floor-to-ceiling window facing a central tower covered with opaque glass.
The Bentham bros figured that if the inmates believed they were being surveilled twenty-four-seven, they would behave themselves – whether or not there were actually any guards in the tower. Effortless social control. Jeremy called it a panopticon.
Benthams’ design was never implemented architecturally in Britain, but a corrupt dictatorship in Cuba in the 1920’s built the Presidio Modelo, a close approximation now long abandoned.
In his 1975 book Discipline and Punish, French philosopher Michel Foucault used the concept as a metaphor for what he called ‘disciplinary societies’ in which the citizen is the target of ‘asymmetrical surveillance’ – “He is seen, but does not see; he is an object of information, never a subject of communication,” Foucault wrote.
Now two recent books are alerting us to the fact that we are on the brink of becoming inmates actually living in what amounts to a digitally enabled planetary panopticon.
Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet, by investigative journalist Yasha Levine, shows the seamless connections between the military and corporate development of the internet – including so-called encryption applications.
Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, by Harvard Business School emerita professor Shoshana Zuboff, shows in depth how the internet and its data mining and monetization offshoots have morphed into an unprecedented system of societal behavioral modification for corporate profit.
Taken together these books are a wake-up call that we must quickly develop new concepts, understandings and modes of analysis and resistance if we are to avoid being digitally enslaved, yet so unaware of our enslavement that we are, as Professor Zuboff puts it, “singing in our chains.”
Two Stems from the Same Root – the Military and Commercial Internet
Levine’s book takes us through his process of discovery that the origins of what we now know as the ‘world wide web’ lie in the U.S. military’s quest for effective counterinsurgency methods in the Viet Nam war. The Internet, he shows, was born from the desire for domination and population control and has never really lost that essential character.
He debunks the popular twin internet creation myths that its origins lie (1) in the military’s quest for a non-decapitatable command structure to survive a nuclear war and (2) the liberatory fantasies of the likes of Stewart Brand and “radical young computer engineers and playful hackers” of the San Francisco Bay Area’s “acid-drenched counterculture.”
The latter was a idealistic, seductive and naive vision, embraced by many at the time (including my young self) and expressed by the subsiquently suicidal poet Richard Brautigan:
I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
The reality was far darker than we knew.
“Since the start of the personal computer and Internet revolution,” Levine writes, “we’ve been told again and again that we are in the grips of a liberating technology, a tool that decentralizes power, topples entrenched bureaucracies, and brings more democracy and equality to the world. Personal computers and information networks were supposed to be the new frontier of freedom – a techno-utopia where authoritarian and repressive structures lost their power, and where the creation of a better world was still possible. And all that we, global citizens, had to do for this new and better world to flower and bloom was to get out of the way and let Internet companies innovate and the market work its magic. This narrative has been planted deep into our culture’s collective subconscious and holds a powerful sway over the way we view the Internet today.”
“But,” on the basis of his extensive research he says, “spend time looking at the nitty-gritty business details of the Internet and the story gets darker, less optimistic. If the Internet is truly such a revolutionary break from the past, why are companies like Google in bed with the cops and spies?”
From ARPA to DARPA to Tor’s ‘Back Doors’
A key revelation of Levine’s book is that the US military not only fathered the Internet, but that it also sired the encryption system, beloved of privacy advocates, known as Tor.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency was created in the Viet Nam era and quickly applied technology to American wartime aims. By the late 60’s it launched ARPANET. By the 1990’s ARPA and morphed into DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and ARPANET had evolved into the Internet.
“Everything was being hooked up to the Internet,” writes Levine, “banks, phones, power plants, universities, military bases, corporations, and foreign governments, both hostile and friendly.” But an open Internet, with every communication traceable to its source is not a safe place for spies operating under deep cover to communicate. So a DARPA team of mathematicians and geeks came up with a solution they called ‘the onion router’ or Tor.
The Navy set up a parallel system of servers that sat on top of the Internet. Covert traffic got redirected into this parallel network and bounced around from one Tor shell node to another so that when it finally surfaced in the Internet nobody could tell where it had come from.
But developers realized that if the system was used only by military and intelligence agencies, people would soon come to suspect any anonymized messages were “coming from the CIA.”
“To truly hide spies and soldiers,” Levine explains, “Tor needed to distance itself from its Pentagon roots and include as many different users as possible. Activists, students, corporate researchers, soccer moms, journalists, drug dealers, hackers, child pornographers, agents of foreign intelligence services, terrorists. Tor was like a public square – the bigger and more diverse the group assembled there, the better the spies could hide in the crowd.”
So in 2004, Roger Dingledine, one of the system’s key developers spun the onion routing project – still funded by DARPA – into a nonprofit corporation called the Tor Project.
Soon the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a Silicon Valley privacy advocacy group claiming to be against government surveillance programs gave the Tor Project nearly a quarter of a million dollars in bridging funding until it found other sponsors. The EFF even hosted the Tor website so that users would be reassured by a message from EFF: “Your traffic is safer when you use Tor.”
The EFF has a strange history for a privacy advocacy outfit. “In 1994,” Levine reports, “EFF worked with the FBI to pass the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which required all telecommunications companies to build their equipment so that it could be wiretapped by the FBI.”
But EFF cover made Tor into an effective Trojan Horse operation trusted even by the likes of such arch surveillance resistors as Glen Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden.
What better way for the surveillance state to spy on its citizens than to supply them with a system they believe to by surveillance-proof and clears the way for surveillance capitalism?
Understanding the Unprecedented
Professor Zuboff ‘s Surveillance Capitalism offers several sobering definitions of surveillance capitalism. One of them is, “An expropriation of critical human rights that is best understood as a coup from above; an overthrow of the people’s sovereignty.”
In a highly readable, felicitously phrased, brilliantly argued and engaging 525 pages (not counting notes and sources), she traces the evolution of what can only be described as a diabolical system of incipient corporate domination.
Because this system is unprecedented in human history, we have no analytical concepts or descriptive terms for its components. What we cannot name, we cannot understand or resist. Faced with the unprecedented, Zuboff explains, we tend to respond in ways that may have worked in the past, but are inadequate and inappropriate to the new situation.
‘Surveillance capitalism,’ is a term first coined by John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney. “Surveillance capitalism,” she explains, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Although some of these data are applied to product or service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioral surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence,’ and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of market place for behavioral predictions that I call behavioral futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations for many companies are eager to lay bets on our future behavior.“
The competitive pressures of this new market have driven prediction product developers to discover that “the most predictive behavioral data come from intervening in the state of play in order to nudge, coax, tune and herd behavior toward profitable outcomes.” The aim of the game is now to “not only know our behavior, but to shape our behavior at scale.” This is a new phase of capitalism in which the ‘means of production’ become subordinate to new ‘means of behavioral modification.’
This has given birth to a new species of power that Zuboff calls instrumentalism. Instead of automating production, it aims to automate us.
“Instrumentarian power,” she says, “knows and shapes human behavior toward others’ ends. Instead of armaments and armies, it works its will through the automated medium of an increasingly ubiquitous computational architecture of ‘smart’ networked devices, things and spaces.”
The vision is to create a synthetic, electronically mediated environment which is a kind of grotesquely distorted mirror image of the natural ecology in which ‘everything is connected to everything else.’ It envisions an Internet of Things (IOT) in which your refrigerator, your car, your sex toys, your ‘wearable’ heart monitor and your GPS-enabled running shoes and more will all be united into a meta-entity, linked to everyone else’s in what Zuboff terms the Big Other.
Compliance or Defiance…That is the question.
As Zuboff’s work shows, this instrumentarian system of power already surrounds us to an alarming degree, like the proverbial frog in the soon to be boiling water.
When Google, quickly followed by others, first ventured into these unmapped cyber domains, they were like an invasive species with no predators, pioneers in an unregulated Wild West. Now that we know what they’re up to, is it too late to hop out of the pot and turn off the heat?
Zuboff doesn’t think so. She refuses to buy the corporate myth of technological inevitability. She invites us to ‘be the friction’ which will slow and eventually block this slide into digital domination.
“I say it is not OK to have our best instincts for connection, empathy, and information exploited by a draconian quid pro quo that holds these goods hostage to the pervasive strip search of our lives. It is not OK for every move, emotion, utterance and desire to be catalogued, manipulated and then used to herd us through the future tense for the sake of someone else’s profit.”
It is a question, she says, “of who decides who decides.” Democracy itself is what’s at stake.
“If democracy is to be replenished in the coming decades,” she concludes, “it is up to us to rekindle the sense of outrage and loss over what is being taken from us….Let there be a digital future, but let it be a human future first.”
Interviewed on Democracy Now, Zuboff laid out how she thinks we can get there. “We have work to do. But this is work that can be done. Our elected officials can be educated. If they don’t want to get educated, we can elect different people. This is stuff that we can fix. I do believe that.”
She went on to explain, “You know, even into the 20th century, we still had courts, judges who were making decisions that completely sided with the industrialists, whom we have now renamed as “robber barons.” In time, all of these actions are reinterpreted as history shakes out, and democracy finally finds its way through to the light. And that’s what I believe—that’s the process that we’re in now. This thing is 20 years old. We’re at the beginning, not the end. We name it, we tame it. That’s the work now, to reignite our democracy, wake it up for this work of the 21st century.”
The Internet; ’The Blob that Engulfs the World’ vs. “We Name It, We Tame It.”
Yes, there is push-back, and more informed resistance is vitally needed before its too late. Google employees forced the cancellation of a Pentagon contract to develop artificial intelligence (AI) for lethal purposes. Public opposition just blocked a planned Amazon headquarters in New York. The UK and New Zealand have both labeled Facebook a ‘digital gangster.’ “Facebook is an out-of-control train wreck that is destroying democracy and must be brought under control,” begins a recent Guardian article. “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalized ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day,” declared British MP Damian Collins.
In the short time since the first version of this article was posted (no credit claimed) Zuboff’s empowering message has begun to reach ever a widening audience through two in depth interviews on Democracy Now, a review by Sam Biddle and 90-minute conversation with Naomi Klein on The Intercept and other outlets.
The ‘naming’ part of Dr. Zuboff’s agenda seems to be going well, but a number of factors and actors suggest that the ‘taming’ part may be easier said than done, requiring a mass informed national and, in fact, global movement.
One of the mind-twisting ironies showing the enormity of the challenge is a recent 3-part investigative series by Alexander Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal reporting on the Zuboff-Klein conversation event’s sponsor. They document that The Intercept’s founder and owner, reclusive, SecondLife-addicted, Dalai Lama devotee, e-bay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, presides over a global network of ‘politically strategic NGOs and media outlets’ – stretching from Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Syria to Ukraine – that advocate for privacy, transparency and journalistic freedom, while simultaneously interfacing with the U.S. surveillance state, supporting ‘regime change’ plots around the world, and supporting the recent rebranding of Neo-con conman Bill Kristol.
Say the authors, “Behind the image he has cultivated of himself as a ‘progressive philanthropreneur,’ Omidyar has wielded his media empire to advance the Washington consensus in strategic hotspots around the globe.”
Whom can you trust?
Yasha Levine, the author of Surveillance Valley: The Military History of the Internet – reviewed in Part ! – told Rubinstein & Blumenthal:
“This kind of multi-level approach … is very much inline with Omidyar’s vision for how to use technology to manage society — and make money in the process. Central to most of his investments is the use of user profiling and behavioral tracking to manage and run all areas of modern life: journalism, transportation, banking and finance, and government administration. To him it’s not just about running a single service, but integrating things together to give technocrats, business executives and government officials a God’s-eye view of the world — to manage and control society more efficiently.”
As Levine spells it out in his book,
“Today the Internet surrounds us. It mediates modern life. We read books on the Internet: bank, shop and play games on the internet. We talk on the phone, attend college, find jobs, flirt, work, listen to music, view movies and make dentist appointments, and get psychological counseling on the Internet. Air conditioners, phones, watches, pet food dispensers, baby monitors, cars, refrigerators, televisions, light bulbs – they all connect to the internet, too. The world’ poorest places may lack plumbing and electricity, but they, sure enough, have access to the Internet. The Internet is like a giant, unseen blob that engulfs the modern world.”
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt but it bluntly; “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about… Your digital identity will live forever… because there’s no delete button.”
Naomi Klein, in the conversation with Shoshana Zuboff cited above, suggests that surveillance capitalism and its enabling infrastructures and institutions can be seen as the final phase of the Enclosure Movement, begun in Britain two centuries ago. A series of ‘Enclosure Acts’ passed by a Parliament controlled by land owners, declared that the forests and fields that had historically been the shared ‘commons’ of the peasantry for farming, grazing, wood-gathering and raw materials, would now be ‘enclosed,’ or privatized for elite profit. Peasants, farmers, artisans, craftspeople were forcibly driven off their ancestral lands. Their villages burned, their livelihoods destroyed, they were driven into the cities to work in the ’satanic mills’ of newly rising industrial capitalism. It was efficient population control for the profit of the few. Dispossession without representation. Fast forward to the present ‘Capitalocine,’ when the ‘enclosure’ of the entire planet by profit-seeking, elite forces is at hand.
Zuboff points in her book to the “immense power of a company such as Facebook that routinely manipulates user behavior at scale, using means that are indecipherable and therefor incontestable.” (Just click that ‘agree’ box and become a data slave.) It is, she says, an ‘economics of action beyond the reach of established law and social norms.” She warns, “They know everything about us. We know nothing about them.” That, in a nutshell, is the essential anti-democratic power asymmetry we face.
“The Behavioral Futures Market” – Commodification of Mass Behavior
The ability of data-gathering to not only track and predict mass behavior, but also modify it to suit commercial profit-making purposes, has created what Zuboff calls ’the behavioral futures market’ – trade in mass behavior outcomes using ‘prediction products.’ If you could modify the weather, investing in ‘weather futures’ would be risk-free. If you can drive the public’s behavior, investment in ‘behavioral futures’ likewise becomes a sure bet. And if you can drive commercial outcomes, why not use the same methods to drive political outcomes, too. Enter Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct British outfit now being investigated for its role in the Brexit and U.S. elections, and its growing field of competitors.
The U.S. 2016 election marked the shift from mass digital behavioral modification for commercial purposes to digital behavior-mod for political purposes – from dispossession of our private data to disenfranchisement of informed democratic choice.
Now comes 5G – the Evil Eye in the Sky – being imposed by a federal agency charged with protecting the public interest.
The Telecom ‘Coup from Above’ – The ‘Final Phase of Enclosure?’
The current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the very model of a ‘captured regulatory agency.’
Presently headed by former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, the FCC has been aggressively issuing rules and rulings that blatantly advance the interests of the telecom industry at the expense of public safety and democratic choice by attempting to pre-empt local, county and state decision-making authority. Ending net neutrality, promoting the Internet of Things (IoT) and the mass build-out of 5G wireless system is at the top of its ’surveillance-industrial-complex’ agenda.
On February 11, 2019 , President Trump signed an Executive Order supporting the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the technology that makes surveillance capitalism possible.
A February 12, 2019 article on Health Impact News was headlined “20,000 Satellites for 5G to be Launched Sending Focused Beams of Intense Microwave Radiation Over Entire Earth.” It reported that the companies with the biggest plans to deploy 5G satellites in the coming months are:
- SpaceX: 12,000 satellites
- OneWeb: 4,560 satellites
- Boeing: 2,956 satellites
- Spire Global: 972 satellites
This is in addition to a global telecom industry push to deploy ground-based, so-called ’small cell’ 5G transmitters every few yards in communities and neighborhoods in the U.S. and around the world, making the surveillance capitalism infrastructure even more powerful and ubiquitous. As the ground-based infrastructure build-out becomes more visible to more people, awareness of its risks to democracy and public health is growing nationally and internationally, and so is public push-back.
Katherine Kheel, editor of WhatIs5g.info, puts the issues clearly,
Our data is fodder for artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is completely dependent on data. The more granular the data, the more capable the AI.
Our data is most easily harvested with wireless connections as we can be tracked 24/7 – wherever we go and whatever we do.
Wireless networks (smart phones and such) stalk us enabling 24/7 tracking us and harvesting our data. (Data is even collected while people are asleep!!) IoT vehicles and “driverless cars” will gather yet more data wirelessly.
Wired networks such as fiber-to-the-home are stationary so not nearly as desirable to industry as wireless. With wired Internet and Telecommunications technology, industry and government miss out on much of our day.
4g/5g “small cells” are needed to feed AI more data.
In fact, THE AGGRESSIVE PUSH FOR 4G/5G TOWERS – THE SO-CALLED “RACE TO 5G” – IS DRIVEN PRIMARILY BY A DESIRE TO CAPTURE AS MUCH OF OUR DATA AS CONCEIVABLY POSSIBLE FOR AI AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES SUCH AS TARGETED MARKETING, GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE, LAW ENFORCEMENT, ETC.
With Trump now calling for “continued American leadership in AI” and claiming we need AI for “maintaining the economic and national security of the United States”, this recent Executive Order is bad news for us all, and will likely be used to support the FCC, Congress, States and industry’s preemption program.
And ‘privacy’ is only part of the issue. As a recent Senate hearing and relentless grilling of telecom executives by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CN) makes clear, the biological effects of 5g have never been proven safe. Yet the global roll-out continues without bio-impact testing; a global biological experiment on un-informed, mis-informed and non-consenting subjects.
Proven Bio-Effects of WiFi
According to Arthur Firstenberg, author of The Invisible Rainbow: A History of Electricity and Life, “The telecommunications industry has suppressed damaging evidence about its technology since at least 1927.”
By 1971, US Naval Officer Zori Glazer, working for the Office of Naval Research, was able to assemble an extensive bibliography of over 100 known biological impacts from exposure to RF radiation in over 16 different categories.
Current independent, peer reviewed scientific research leaves no doubt that the impact of EMR on all biological systems – including humans, wildlife, insects and vegetation – need to be taken seriously before its too late.
Blanketing the planet in 24/7 microwave radiation will mean no human or other lifeforms will be able to escape its biological effects. There will be no place to hide, no refuge from the electro-magnetic storm.
Yet the alternative – a global backbone of fiber-optic cable, combined with vastly reduced, only essential mobile WiFi – is cheaper, safer and more secure. Any guesses as to why this option is it not being more widely pursued?
Amazon’s Core Business is Surveillance
The recent brouhaha surrounding the National Enquirer’s attempt to blackmail Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has further exposed the extent to which the surveillance business model permeates firms at the top of U.S. companies.
Writes the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, “the company that has made Bezos the planet’s richest human being, is a critical partner for the U.S. Government in building an ever-more invasive, militarized and sprawling surveillance state. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon’s business, and thus one of the most important sources of Bezos’ vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to empower the U.S. Government with more potent and more sophisticated weapons, including surveillance weapons.”
Globalized Surveillance Capitalism
The U.S. may deserve both credit and blame for creating surveillance capitalisms backbone, but US entities of the cyber-security-industrial complex no longer dominate the field. Every nation and their public-private start-up sectors that can are rushing to compete. A major incubator of this boom is Israel and its intelligence service Mossad, especially Unit 8200.
As a 2016 Forbes article Inside Israel’s Secret Startup Machine reports, Unit 8200 has a highly efficient way of identifying and developing teenagers who demonstrate the required set of aptitudes. One alumnus of the system reports, “Unit 8200 can take the top 1% of the 1% of the country.”
Forbes estimates that “the unit has, at any given time, 5,000 people assigned to it, all mandated to deploy the latest technology, often in life-or-death situations, with surprisingly little guidance.”
Teams of teenage recruits are rigorously trained, then assigned tough tasks, told to ’think out of the box,’ and given the freedom to work with little supervision. After a few years, those staffers are replaced with young newcomers and move on to become entrepreneurs, launching startups in the private sector.
Says one Unit 8200 alumnus, “Just from my generation, there are more than 100 guys from the unit that I personally knew who built startups and sold them for a lot of money.” According to Forbes, “more than 1,000 companies have been founded by 8200 alumni, from Waze to Check Point to Mirabilis, the parent company of ICQ. Tech giants like to gobble up 8200 firms like hors d’oeuvres. In the last three years alone, Microsoft MSFT +1.23% bought Adallom, a data privacy firm, for a reported $320 million; Facebook FB -0.88% bought mobile analytics company Onavo for some $150 million; and PayPal grabbed CyActive, which predicts hacks, for an estimated $60 million.
Some Unit 8200 veterans also founded the ‘Private Mossads,’ so-called ‘influence management’ outfits like Black Cube, Psy-Group and their lesser-known relatives. They focus on using social media, fake news websites and artificial on-line cyber-personae or ‘avatars,’ to shape public perception and mass behavior, a service for which there is growing global demand. As one company motto puts it, “Perception is reality.”
It’s a Wild West-like lawless international environment. The explosion of this domain has outrun public awareness, much less oversight, understanding and regulation. As one startup founder observes, “I’m coming from the side of the influencer, who really understands how we can make use of online platforms. There needs to be more regulation, and it’s up to our legislators, in each and every country. What have U.S. legislators done since they learned, more than two years ago, about the potential of these new capabilities? They have the power to move the needle from A to B. Nothing substantial has been done, as far as I know.”
Says another startup founder, “This is the challenge of our time. Everything is fake. It’s unbelievable.” Adds another, “In order to understand where we are, we have to understand where we started. What started as a noble cause ended up as fake news. What you have today is a flooded market, with people that will, basically, do anything.”
Its no secret that the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) expends major efforts to influence U.S. politics. With Israel being a key hub of the global ‘influence industry,’ and a major source of highly-trained ‘influencers,’ how unlikely is it that some of their companies, along with operatives from other countries – and competing factions within the U.S. – will be providing their services in the upcoming 2020 election?
New analysis by the pro-democracy tech firm Guardians.ai finds that, “we can conclusively state that a large group of suspicious accounts that were active in one of the largest influence operations of the 2018 cycle is now engaged in sustained and ongoing activity for the 2020 cycle.”
From fiction to fact – The logo of Peter Thiel’s surveillance company Palanetir
From Surveillance Capitalism to Surveillance Philanthropy –
Palantir and the World Food Program
Palantir is a company co-founded by Republican billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel with start-up funds supplied by In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital division. Its software has helped the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) identify and deport immigrants.
Tolkin fans will remember ‘palantir’ as the evil orb used by the dark lord Sauron to surveille, manipulate and dominate Middle Earth. Nothing like putting your agenda right out there, hidden in plain sight.
The U.K.’s signals intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – a key hub in the ‘Five Eyes’ multi-nation surveillance network in which the United States, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada all participate – enthused about Palantir as “having been funded not only by In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital branch, but furthermore created ‘through [an] iterative collaboration between Palantir computer scientists and analysts from various intelligence agencies over the course of nearly three years.’
Recently the California-based software firm and the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) announced a five-year $45 million partnership. According to the news outlet IRIN, a humanitarian data analyst commented, “WFP is jumping headlong into something they don’t understand, without thinking through the consequences, and the U.N. has put no frameworks in place to regulate it.”
Privacy International commented, “The recipients of WFP aid are already in extremely vulnerable situations; they should not be put at additional risk of harm or exploitation.” One Privacy International researcher called the deal “breathtaking, and terrifying.”
A system that not only tracks and predicts, but also modifies and steers individual and mass behavior for private profit as well as elite social and political control constitutes an intolerable technocratic tyranny at odds with human rights and even survival.
In what it calls “an experiment to test its cyberdefence capabilities,” Russia has announced plans to disconnect from the World Wide Web.
Putin has reportedly called the internet a “CIA project”. From the foregoing, it seems he is at least partly right.
And so was the eventually suicidal poet Richard Brautigan, who may have realized that the AI bots he gushingly imagined ‘watching over us’ are very unlikely to be ‘machines of loving grace.’
“[O]nce we name and understand that this is an economic logic,’’ says Zuboff, ”then it’s our job, as citizens of democratic societies, to use our new understanding to summon the resources of our democratic institutions, to insist that our elected officials now go beyond naming to actually interrupt and outlaw these practices. Do we really want to be living in a society where the dominant form of capitalism is one that makes its money by trading in human futures? Because the consequence of that kind of business logic is on a direct collision course with democracy…’’
With awareness of surveillance capitalism’s ‘economic logic’ comes responsibility to take informed collective action.
Early 20th century philosopher G. I. Gurdjieff put it plainly: “To know and not to act, is not to know.”