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The Cyber Gulag revisited & Debate reloaded

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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Is there life after Facebook? Or after the Spring-ing ‘revolution’? Now, when Wall Street is occupied, how will we occupy ourselves? Could we google protest, tweet discontent, arming  ourselves with all the mobile launcher gadgets powered by the micro & soft, touch screen & scream tech, then upload promenades, block a tragedy and avoid farce, and eventually download pure happiness – happily ever after? … Pimp my revolution, Date my resolution …

Through the pain of sobriety, the protesters all across the MENA, Euro-Med and overseas are learning that neither globalization nor the McFB way of life (mostly spent in the large, air-conditioned shopping-malls) is a shortcut to development; that free trade is not a virtue, but an instrument; that liberalism is not a state of mind but a well-doctrinated ideology, and finally that the social media networks are only a communication tool, not a replacement for indepen- dent critical thinking or for the collapsed cross-generational contract. “We are the suckers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones – and the eternally disappointed ones…”

Machines run on binary-coded algorithms (predictability of human behavior cyber-providers) can neither compensate for an empathic human touch nor can they replace the wonders of socio-emotional interactions of individuals in a real time-space. Sociableness is neither of linear, one-directional dynamics à la Running Sushi, nor can it be a 3-size simplified and instant portable like the Starbucks coffee. Personal relations are lived, not utilized by a mouse click. Human integrity is self-molested (brutalized) and self-reduced (trivialized) to a lame shop-window commodity, which is purchasable 24/7 by ‘poking’ on the photo of someone’s personal profile. And, likies are available to give a rating for ‘displayed commodities’.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Your appearance now is what we call ‘residual self-image’.
It is the mental projection of your digital self.
TRINITY TO NEO:
The Matrix cannot tell you who you are, but who you are seems to be at least
in some sense related to whom you think you are in the Matrix.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees, because he’s expecting to wake up.
Ironically, this is not far from the truth…
Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

This grotesque of self-imposed cyber gulag, called ‘social media networks’ might end up like smoking of the 21st century. In early 20th century, smoking was cool, sexy, brave, rebellious, liberating and most of all: social. As such it was glorified and promoted by that time Western press, film and other entertainment industries. However, as soon as the physical and mental exposures and distortion, as well as the dependency, submissiveness and heavy-addiction have been credibly verified, smoking was barred from all public places, from children and elderly, schools and hospitals. First opposing for some decades, the tobacco industry was eventually forced to visibly and clearly state warnings about all hazards associated with its products. Today, smoking is proscribed in the OECD countries, ghettoized, and effectively confined to the specially designated glass-boxes with powerful ventilations systems and sensitive fire-alarms. The developing world will maybe follow, one day, successfully. As for the OECD states and media networks: London/UK’s tweet and loot nights of early August 2011 and NY feed, occupy and camp autumn days of 2011 are an indication enough.

Misled by a quick triumphalism of the social-media cheerleaders and TV reporter–nomads, the international news agencies have definitely confused the two: revolt and revolution. As they later missed to co-relate a massive EU bail-outing and the UK loot-outing. Negotiating on the coined “Euro-zone debt crisis” (debt bound economies) without restaging the forgotten Lisbon strategy (knowledge-based societies) is simply a lame talk about form without any substance – it is a grand bargain about control via austerity, not a vision of prosperity.

The very precursor of the so-called Arab Spring was the winter of the (still unsettled) global financial crisis with its severe impact felt or misused locally. Consequently, the Arab unrests started as a social, not political, public revolt over high unemployment and soaring costs of living (Tunisia and Egypt), over the inter-tribal inequalities (Libya, Bahrain), or over a combination of all factors (Yemen and Syria). Besides publicly ‘crucifying’ a couple of scapegoats, it has then failed to bring about structural change (r/evolution), and is paradoxically ending up with more debts, ever higher living costs, and more unemployment than before the real or fabricated austerity measures were imposed in a response to the mounting global financial crisis. Finally, it is not clear whether these popular revolts have been preempted (or diverted by hacktivists), and at the end, scrutinized and criminalized.

How does the Arab ‘Spring’ correlate with the UK/London (looting) ‘Summer’ and the Wall Street (walking charade) ‘Autumn’? Well, the difference between a dialectic and cyclical history is a distance between success and fall: The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 (that interestingly enough also included the non-petrol exporting republics of Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) was an attempt at political emancipation. In the aftermath of the Oil Shock that the Embargo subsequently triggered, the Arab states have found themselves within ever stronger external financial and politico-military dependencies… History also rounds up the virtuality, (of) taxation and representation. No taxation without representation! – isn’t it?!

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Welcome to the desert of the real! …How do you define ‘real’!?
If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain …
The world exists now only as a part of a neural interactive simulation that we call the Matrix.

CYPHER TO TRINITY:
If I had to choose between that and the Matrix … I choose the Matrix.

TRINITY:
The Matrix isn’t real?

CYPHER:
I disagree, Trinity. I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.

The Ancient world of the Roman Empire was one of the first legal systems to extensively practice the institute of the so-called Civic death. This savage, inhuman but effective sanction medieval Europe eagerly continued for centuries, before it was finally abolished by the post-Napoleonic age. What would be the modern equivalent to this Antique criminal law penalty? Imagine that instead of a fine or imprisonment, the convicted individual gets a sentence which bars him from any access to mobile phones, internet/FB and to shopping malls. Science fiction? Not really! That is exactly what the Prime Minister Cameron asked for in the British Parliament, as to put the London riots under control in August 2011.

CYPHER:
I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth,
the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.
After nine years, do you know what I’ve realized?
Ignorance is bliss.

AGENT SMITH:
Then we have a deal?

CYPHER:
Reinsert me into the Matrix… I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing! You understand?
And I want to be rich… Someone important, like an actor… You can do that, right?

AGENT SMITH:
Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan.

For over ten years, Europe’s youth (in France, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Britain) is repeatedly sending us a powerful message on the perceived collapse of the cross-generational social contract. So far, the only consolidated response was the impressive build-up of the so-called ‘Wing/s front’. These movements, seemingly rightist political parties, are effectively exploiting mounting frustration of electorate over the main center-left and center-right political parties (that lost most of its traditional ideological platform and specific political content, but far too often co-habituating in a form of grand-coalitions across the EU), and the potent emotional charges related to ‘migration question’.

The history of Europe is a story of small hysterical nations, traditionally sensitive to the issue of otherness (as the ethnic, linguistic, religious or behaviorist minorities were misused far too many times in history by assertive neighbors all over the continent, or domestically presented as a Hassobjekt for the locally surfacing hardships). The present-day, aged but not restaged, EU is (in) a shadow of the grand taboo that Europe can produce everything but its own life. The ‘Old Continent’ is demographically sinking, while economically just keeping afloat. The cross-generational social contract is silently abandoned (as one of its main operative instruments – the Lisbon strategy – has been eroded, and finally lost its coherence). European youth feels it correctly, still does not express it right: The escapist, defeatist/rejectionist, retreating and confrontational anti-politics is on a rise in lieu of the visionary, dynamic far-reaching policies, aimed at the knowledge-based economy and solidarity-based society.

Imagine human beings living in an underground, cave like dwelling, with an Entrance
a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave itself.  They’ve
been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered,
able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their
heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them.
Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and
 the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front
of puppeteers above which they show their puppets … Then also imagine that there are
people along the wall, carrying all kind of artifacts that project above it – statues of
people and other animals, made out of stone, wood, and every material. And, as you’d
expect, some of the carriers are talking, and some are silent.

What is the possible message of the Arab ‘Spring’, London ‘Summer’ and the Wall street ‘Autumn’ for Asia in general and for Southeast Asia (SEA) in particular? Well, there are few. The cross-generational social contract should be neither neglected, nor built on the over-consumerist, anti-intellectual, trivialized and brutalized McFB way of life. Equally alienating and dangerously inflammatory is the radicalization of the entering youth generation – be it a religious or political radicalization. There must be a third way! – especially for the newly arriving SEA middle class that is also rapidly urbanizing. The middle class formation and its urbanization is closely related to the identity-crisis, too. The forthcoming task of intellectuals is to offer the best ways for accommodation of these new arrivals and their integration. It is the political parties who should then promote those policies and best practices for the lasting benefit of all stake holders and the social cohesion which, not only “pleases the markets” and complies with the spooky and shadowy rating agencies but, stabilizes the entire nation.

No doubt, just as the cyber-autistic McFB way of life is the same in any European and Middle Eastern city, so are the radical, wing politics! Have you spotted any critical difference between the rhetoric of Norwegian serial killer Breivik and the Al Qaida Wahhabi ‘Islamists’? “Just like Jihadi warriors are the plum tree of Ummah, we will be the plum tree for Europe and for Christianity”– many news agencies reported these as words allegedly written by the Christian Jihadist Anders Behring. The European (right-wing) parties opposing e.g. Muslim immigration are nothing but the mirror image of the MENA’s Islamist parties. In both cases, there are: (i) Socio-political outsiders (without much of an coherence, integrity and autonomy) that are denouncing the main, status quo, parties as a ‘corrupt establishment’; (ii) Extensively exploiting domestic economic shortcomings (e.g. unemployment, social inequalities, etc.), but they themselves do nothing essential to reverse the trend; (iii) Making ethnic and religious appeals (preaching the return to tradition), attacking foreign influences in their societies and otherwise ‘culturally purifying’ population; (iv) Generally doing better in local rather than in national elections (the ‘Rightists’ win on the national elections only when no other effective alternative exists to challenge the governing party/coalition block); (v) More emotionally charged populist movements than serious political parties of the solid socio-economic and socio-political program (per definition, these parties have very poor governing score).

NEO:
What is this place?

MORPHEUS:
More important than ‘what’ is when!

NEO:
When?

MORPHEUS:
You believe that it is the year 1999…
I can’t tell you exactly what year it is, because we honestly do not know…

So far, the Middle Eastern/MENA and European political establishments responded to these developments in similar fashion: (i) the Middle East: became more sectarian Islamic in its orientation, symbols, practices; (ii) the EU/Europe: mainstream (center) parties adopted rhetorics and promoted the measures advocated by the right-wing, anti-immigrant parties.
The calamities all over the EU and Euro-Mediterranean zone are showing us how dangerous, disastrous, and short-sighted these (anti-politics) policies of exclusion are.
Is Southeast Asia able to prevent its own Middle Eastern ‘Spring’, London ‘Summer’ and
‘Occupying Autumn’ social-cohesion ‘Fukushima-Daiichhi-like’ meltdown?

The Arab world’s population growth is considerably higher than its economic growth. This means that besides the grave indigenous political and regional security problems, domestic disparities, unemployment, pauperization and inequalities are on the sharp rise. Past the prime age of the “baby boomer” generation, Europe suffers the worrying negative demographic growth and rapid ageing. The EU replacement ratio is between 1,3 and 1,7 (and is afloat only due to steady and silent but massive naturalizations all across Europe over the last decade). The EU’s economic growth is very symbolic, despite huge territorial enlargements in the past decade. Actually, the EU’s growth in many categories could be portrayed as negative.

Ergo, both regions are in a socio-economic retreat, naturally reflected in their political defensive. To reverse the trend, both regions would need an extra effort (which is not presently lurking on the horizon).  

CAPTAIN TO AUTO (SHIP’s COMPUTER):
That’s all I’ve ever done! That’s all anyone on this blasted ship has ever done. Nothing! Nothing!!

AUTO TO CAPTAIN:
On the Axiom, you will survive.

CAPTAIN:
I don’t want to survive. I want to live.

AUTO:
…must follow my directive.

WALL-E:
Dirrrr-ect-ti-veee?… Eveeee!

EVE:
Waaaalll-eeee!… Wall-E!

WALL-E:
Ta-dah!

Finally, what is the karma and dharma of current financial crisis? Where is a thin line between too big to fail (so, bail) and too heavy to fly (but, expensive to buy)? Is the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ a spontaneous outcry, a stress-eliminator walk (usually recommended by medics), a camping charade overrun by a bluffing demagogue of anti-corporate populists and mid-term elections opportunists? Is this in fact a Woodstock-remake TV show, just another US exporting item? Or is it the (only way out for domestically needed) solution? Is OWS a mix of all, or none of these?
AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Did you know that the First Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? … It was a disaster. (… entire crops were lost.)

MOUSE TO NEO:
To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss!

Revelation 21:4, KING JAMES BIBLE
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged, many of them so inert, so hopelessly dependent…

IVAN, in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully
as to find someone to worship.

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Some believe that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world,
but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering.
The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.   

GARCIN, In Sartre’s No Exit:
Hell is – other people.

Sagan is very precise and instructive: “If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further… Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant…”

As one of the exceptionally few world regions, Southeast Asia so far holds both what is otherwise missing in the other two mentioned theaters – stabilized demographic growth and an impressive economic growth. However, the demographic and economic growth poses an additional environmental stress, which – if not under check – may result in confrontational domestic policies and practices aimed at to maximize a grab for finite, scarce resources.

Hence, be the outside world Kantian or Hobbesian (be it driven by the sense of higher civilizational mission and common ASEAN destiny, or by the pragmatic need to strengthen the nation’s position), all necessary means are here! To register its future claims, the SEA – as well as any other theater – have to demonstrate its lasting and decisive will now.

Tentatively, we can cluster that will around three main tasks:

(i)    Prosperity: Support to all three sides of the knowledge triangle: research (creation of knowledge); development/innovation (application of knowledge); education (dissemination of knowledge), as well as the promotion of life itself;
(ii)    Solidarity: Human dimension enhancement through promotion of cohesion policies, including the full respect of authenticity as well as the  preservation and promotion of indigenous socio-cultural and environmental diversities;
(iii)    Security: Enhancing the human-centered (socio-economic) safety, based on free- dom, justice and inclusive collective (environmental and socio-political) security.
This opportunity should be understood as history’s call – which both invites and obliges at the same time. Or, as Hegel reminds us that since: “reason is purposive activity…” the state should be: “…the actuality of the ethical Idea, of concrete freedom…” for all. An effective long-range prosperity, solidarity as well as (external or internal) security cannot be based on confrontational (nostalgia of) ‘religious’ radicalism and other ideological collisions. Clearly, it cannot rest on the escapist consumerism, corrosive socio-economic egoism and exclusion, restriction and denial, but only on promotion and inclusion. Simply, it needs to be centered on a pro-active, participatory policy not a reactive, dismissive one.  

TRUMAN:
Who are you?

CRISTOF:
I’m the Creator
…of a TV show that gives hope and joy, inspiration to millions.

TRUMAN:
Then who am I?

CRISTOF:
You are the star.

CRISTOF:
I know you better than you know yourself.

TRUMAN:
You never had a camera in my head!

Post Scriptum

NEO TO AGENT SMITH:
…You can’t scare me with this Gestapo crap. I know my rights…
I want my phone-call.

AGENT SMITH TO NEO:
Mr. Anderson, you disappoint me…
Tell me, what good is a phone-call if you’re unable to speak?

Note:
An early, shorter version of Is there life after Facebook?, the so-called fb1,article appeared at first in China (Beijing, the 4th Media) on 12th August 2011. Is there life after Facebook? – The Cyber Gulag revisited & Debate reloaded, the so-called fb2, article was an extended version of that text published by the Addleton Publishers, New York, RCP 10 (2), 2011.

The present text is an expanded, unpublished version that includes SEA and elaborates on OWS for the first time in this article. It is exclusively prepared for the International Media Conference in Paris, France (23–25 November 2011).  

References:

1.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2003), Beyond the Cyberpunk of negative utopia, Reader for the Research colloquia: Alternative Futures, Helsinki, Finland
2.    Kirkpatrick, D. (2010), The Facebook Effect, Simon & Schuster
3.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2011), No Asian century without the pan-Asian Institution, Post Script  THC, Jakarta 8:3
4.    Heidegger, M. (1927), Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), Max Niemeyer Verlag Tübingen (page: 37)
5.    Dostoyevsky, F.M., (1880), Братья Карамазовы (The Brothers Karamazov), (Chapter 5), Bantam Classics
6.    Huxley, A. (1932), Brave New World,  A Flamingo Modern Classics 1994 (page: 82)
7.    Nietzsche, F. (1886), Jenseits von Gut und Böse; Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft (Beyond Good and Evil) (page 199), Druck u. Verlag von C.G. Neumann, Leipzig
8.    Fromm, E. (1956), The Art of Loving, Perennial Classics, (page: 79 and page: 80).
9.    The Matrix Movie, written and directed by the Wachowski brothers (1999). According to the movie script; all quoted dialogues refer to the first motion picture of the Matrix trilogy (1999-2003)
10.    Pariser, E., (2011), The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Penguin (page: 43)
11.    Khanthong, T. (2011), Overdrive: Conveniently Ignoring the Truth, The Nation – Thailand (page 13A, 07 X 11)
12.    Plato  Republic, (trans. Grube, G.M.E.), 2nd Ed. Rev. C.D.C. Reeve, Indianapolis, Indiana: Huckett Publishing Co., 1992 (514a1 – 515a3)
13.    Dante, A. (1321), La Divina Commedia (The Devine Comedy), The NAL, Penguin Group /first published, 1954/  
14.    Goethe, J.W. (1808), Faust, Anchor Books Editions 1961 (page: 73, Der Tragödie erster Teil)
15.    NIC – National Intelligence Council (2008), Mapping the Global Future – Disruptive Civil Technologies (STwP Impacts on US Interests out to 2025), Conference proceedings April 2008  
16.    Tim Lister, Europe’s resurgent far right focuses on immigration, multiculturalism, CNN (July 24, 2011)
17.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Destiny Shared: Our Common Futures – EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco
18.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Towards the Creation of the OSCE Task Force on Human Capital, Documents of the 13th OSCE Economic Forum, Prague, Czech Republic
19.    Youngs, R. (2010), Europe’s Decline and Fall – The Struggle against Global Irrelevance, Profile Books    
20.    WALL-E (2008), written by Andrew Stanton and Pate Docter, directed by Andrew Stanton. All quoted dialogues taken from the official movie’s script    
21.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2010) The JHA Diplomacy: Palermo Convention, 10 Years After, GHIR – Geopolitics, History and Intl Relation (3:1/2011) (page:32)
22.    Friedman, G. (2009), The Next 100 Years, Anchor Books/Random House NY
23.    Sartre, J.–P. (1944), Huis Clos (No Exit), Vintage International (Random House 1989)
24.    The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir in 1998. All quoted dialogues taken from the official movie’s script
25.    Hegel, G.W.F. (1807), Phänomenologie des Geistes (The Phenomenology of Mind), Oxford University Press, 1977 (page: 25 VII)
26.    Sagan, C. (1980), Cosmos Random House, NY /Carl Sagan Productions Inc. (page: 327).  

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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Asia Needs a Region-Wide Approach to Harness Fintech’s Full Potential

MD Staff

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The importance of a region-wide approach to harness the potentials of fintech was emphasized at the High-Level Policy Dialogue: Regional Cooperation to Support Innovation, Inclusion and Stability in Asia on 11 October in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: ADB

Asia’s policy makers should strengthen cooperation to harness the potential of new financial technologies for inclusive growth. At the same time, they should work together to ensure they can respond better to the challenges posed by fintech.

New technologies such as mobile banking, big data, and peer-to-peer transfer networks are already extending the reach of financial services to those who were previously unbanked or out of reach, boosting incomes and living standards. Yet, fintech also comes with the risk of cyber fraud, data security, and privacy breaches. Disintermediation of fintech services or concentration of services among a few providers could also pose a risk to financial stability.

These and other issues were discussed at the High-Level Policy Dialogue on Regional Cooperation to Support Innovation, Inclusion, and Stability in Asia, organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Bank Indonesia, and the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO).

The panel comprised Ms. Neav Chanthana, Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Cambodia; Mr. Diwa Guinigundo, Deputy Governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas; Ms. Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and Chief Executive Officer of Women’s World Banking; Mr. Ravi Menon, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore; Mr. Takehiko Nakao, President of ADB; Mr. Abdul Rasheed, Deputy Governor, Bank Negara Malaysia, and Mr. Veerathai Santiprabhob, Governor of the Bank of Thailand. Mr. Mirza Adityaswara, Senior Deputy Governor of Bank Indonesia, gave the opening remarks at the conference and Ms. Junhong Chang, Director of AMRO, gave the welcome remarks.

“Rapidly spreading new financial technologies hold huge promise for financial inclusion,” said Mr. Nakao. “We must foster an enabling environment for the technologies to flourish and strengthen regional cooperation to build harmonized regulatory standards and surveillance systems to prevent international money laundering, terrorism financing, and cybercrimes.”

“Technology is an enabler that weaves our economies and financial systems together, transmitting benefits but also risks across borders,” said Ms. Chang. “Given East Asia’s rapid economic growth, understanding and managing the impact of technology in our financial systems is essential for policymakers to maintain financial stability.”

“Asia, including Indonesia, is an ideal place for fintech to flourish,” said Mr. Adityaswara. “In Indonesia’s case, there are more than a quarter of a billion people living on thousand of islands, waiting to be integrated with the new technology; young people eager to enter the future digital world; more than fifty million small and medium-sized enterprises which can’t wait to get on board with e-commerce; a new society driven by a dynamic, democratic middle class which views the digital economy as something as inevitable as evolution.”

Despite Asia’s high economic growth in recent years, the financial sector is still under-developed in some countries. Fewer than 27% of adults in developing Asia have a bank account, well below the global median of 38%. Meanwhile, just 84% of firms have a checking or savings account, on a par with Africa but below Latin America’s 89% and emerging Europe’s 92%.

Financial inclusion could be increased through policies to promote financial innovation, by boosting financial literacy, and by expanding and upgrading digital infrastructure and networks. Regulations to prevent illegal activities, enhance cyber security, and protect consumers’ rights and privacy, would also build confidence in new financial technologies.

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Cutting-edge tech a ‘double-edged sword for developing countries’

MD Staff

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The latest technological advances, from artificial intelligence to electric cars, can be a “double-edged sword”, says the latest UN World Economic and Social Survey (WESS 2018), released on Monday.

The over-riding message of the report is that appropriate, effective policies are essential, if so-called “frontier technologies” are to change the world for the better, helping us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing climate change: without good policy, they risk exacerbating existing inequality.

Amongst several positive indicators, WESS 2018 found that the energy sector is becoming more sustainable, with renewable energy technology and efficient energy storage systems giving countries the opportunity to “leapfrog” existing, often fossil fuel-based solutions.

The wellbeing of the most vulnerable is being enhanced through greater access to medicines, and millions in developing countries now have access to low-cost financial services via their mobile phones.

Referring to the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “good health and longevity, prosperity for all and environmental sustainability are within our reach if we harness the full power of these innovations.”

However, the UN chief warned of the importance of properly managing the use of new technologies, to ensure there is a net benefit to society: the report demonstrates that unmanaged implementation of developments such as artificial intelligence and automation can improve efficiency but also destroy quality jobs.

“Clearly, we need policies that can ensure frontier technologies are not only commercially viable but also equitable and ethical. This will require a rigorous, objective and transparent ongoing assessment, involving all stakeholders,” Mr. Guterres added

The Survey says that proactive and effective policies can help countries to avoid pitfalls and minimize the economic and social costs of technology-related disruption. It calls for regulation and institutions that promote innovation, and the use of new technologies for sustainable development.

With digital technology frequently crossing borders, international cooperation, the Survey shows, is needed to bring about harmonized standards, greater flexibility in the area of intellectual property rights and ensuring that the market does not remain dominated by a tiny number of extremely powerful companies.

Here, the UN has a vital role to play, by providing an objective assessment of the impact that emerging technologies have on sustainable development outcomes – including their effects on employment, wages and income distribution – and bringing together people, business and organizations from across the world to build strong consensus-led agreements.

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Our Trust Deficit with Artifical Intelligence Has Only Just Started

Eleonore Pauwels

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“We suffer from a bad case of trust-deficit disorder,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his recent General Assembly speech. His diagnosis is right, and his focus on new technological developments underscores their crucial role shaping the future global political order. Indeed, artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to deepen the trust-deficit across the world.

The Secretary-General, echoing his recently released Strategy on New Technologies, repeatedly referenced rapidly developing fields of technology in his speech, rightly calling for greater cooperation between countries and among stakeholders, as well as for more diversity in the technology sector. His trust-deficit diagnosis reflects the urgent need to build a new social license and develop incentives to ensure that technological innovation, in particular AI, is deployed safely and aligned with the public interest.

However, AI-driven technologies do not easily fit into today’s models of international cooperation, and will in fact tend to undermine rather than enforce global governance mechanisms. Looking at three trends in AI, the UN faces an enormous set of interrelated challenges.

AI and Reality

First, AI is a potentially dominating technology whose powerful – both positive and negative –implications will be increasingly difficult to isolate and contain. Engineers design learning algorithms with a specific set of predictive and optimizing functions that can be used to both empower or control populations. Without sophisticated fail-safe protocols, the potential for misuse or weaponization of AI is pervasive and can be difficult to anticipate.

Take Deepfake as an example. Sophisticated AI programs can now manipulate sounds, images and videos, creating impersonations that are often impossible to distinguish from the original. Deep-learning algorithms can, with surprising accuracy, read human lips, synthetize speech, and to some extent simulate facial expressions. Once released outside of the lab, such simulations could easily be misused with wide-ranging impacts (indeed, this is already happening at a low level). On the eve of an election, Deepfake videos could falsely portray public officials being involved in money-laundering or human rights abuses; public panic could be sowed by videos warning of non-existent epidemics or cyberattacks; forged incidents could potentially lead to international escalation.

The capacity of a range of actors to influence public opinion with misleading simulations could have powerful long-term implications for the UN’s role in peace and security. By eroding the sense of trust and truth between citizens and the state—and indeed amongst states—truly fake news could be deeply corrosive to our global governance system.

AI Reading Us

Second, AI is already connecting and converging with a range of other technologies—including biotech—with significant implications for global security. AI systems around the world are trained to predict various aspects of our daily lives by making sense of massive data sets, such as cities’ traffic patterns, financial markets, consumer behaviour trend data, health records and even our genomes.

These AI technologies are increasingly able to harness our behavioural and biological data in innovative and often manipulative ways, with implications for all of us. For example, the My Friend Cayla smart doll sends voice and emotion data of the children who play with it to the cloud, which led to a US Federal Trade Commission complaint and its ban in Germany. In the US, emotional analysis is already being used in the courtroom to detect remorse in deposition videos. It could soon be part of job interviews to assess candidates’ responses and their fitness for a job.

The ability of AI to intrude upon—and potentially control—private human behaviour has direct implications for the UN’s human rights agenda. New forms of social and bio-control could in fact require a reimagining of the framework currently in place to monitor and implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and will certainly require the multilateral system to better anticipate and understand this quickly emerging field.

AI as a Conflict Theatre

Finally, the ability of AI-driven technologies to influence large populations is of such immediate and overriding value that it is almost certain to be the theatre for future conflicts. There is a very real prospect of a “cyber race” in which powerful nations and large technology platforms enter into open competition for our collective data as the fuel to generate economic, medical and security supremacy across the globe. Forms of “cyber-colonization” are increasingly likely, as powerful states are able to harness AI and biotech together to understand and potentially control other countries’ populations and ecosystems.

Towards Global Governance of AI

Politically, legally and ethically, our societies are not prepared for the deployment of AI. The UN, established many decades before the emergence of these technologies, is in many ways poorly placed to develop the kind of responsible governance that will channel AI’s potential away from these risks and towards our collective safety and wellbeing. In fact, the resurgence of nationalist agendas across the world may point to a dwindling capacity of the multilateral system to play a meaningful role in the global governance of AI. Major corporations and powerful member states may see little value in bringing multilateral approaches to bear on what they consider lucrative and proprietary technologies.

There are, however, some important ways in which the UN can help build the kind of collaborative, transparent networks that may begin to treat our “trust-deficit disorder.” The Secretary-General’s recently-launched High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, is already working to build a collaborative partnership with the private sector and establish a common approach to new technologies. Such an initiative could eventually find ways to reward cooperation over competition, and to put in place common commitments to using AI-driven technologies for the public good.

Perhaps the most important challenge for the UN in this context is one of relevance, of re-establishing a sense of trust in the multilateral system. But if the above trends tell us anything, it is that AI-driven technologies are an issue for every individual and every state, and that without collective, collaborative forms of governance, there is a real risk that it will be a force that undermines global stability.

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