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Beyond the Cyberpunk of Negative Utopia

MD Staff

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It is exactly 15 years since the movie’s first release in 1999 – a year of a symbolic digit, omni-pregnant in all possibly meanings… In a retrospective, it is worth of a mini conquest over the fields of Alternative Futures…of all our tomorrows that (knocked on our doors but, so far) did not come in yet… The MATRIX – Our Posthuman (Future) Existence – we are here to answer your call: 
FREEDOM, WHOSE AND WHOM !? 

It’s a cool music, good-looking and hallucinatory characters, ultra-speed violence of the anti-gravity martial arts, quasi religious story of Homeric gods, Buddhist goddesses or Judeao-Christian-Islamic God, all of that combined with a lot of Hi-Tech …                                                                                                                              
The Matrix (offered and still) offers more than this. It belongs in a special class of films including The Wizard of Oz, Blade Runner, 1984, Logan’s Run, Total Recall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, A Clockwork Orange, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Brazil-Brazil, The Truman Show, Thirteen Floor, Minority Report, and above all Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. All of these films are intentionally philosophical. Each shows how richly philosophical and existential themes can be developed through cinema. Perhaps the best of these films is The Matrix.

However, the most striking philosophical theme found in The Matrix concerns skepticism about knowledge of an external world (what Morpheus aptly called “the desert of the real”). Life that desolated shell of a planet on which countless humans were unknowingly ensconced in slimy wombs, and after the Nuclear Winter that was caused by humans they are transformed into cattle, into batteries.
But there are many other philosophical themes explored within The Matrix. One is the concept of freedom. Freedom is mentioned at various points in the film. Even the leader of machines, Agent Smith valued freedom:

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
I’m going to be honest with you; I hate this place, this zoo, this prison,
this reality – whatever you want to call it. I can’t stand it any longer …
I can taste your stink, and every time I do, I fear that I am somehow infected.
Isn’t it ?!
… I must get out of here, I must get free ! And in this mind is the key.
Once Zion is destroyed, there is no need for me to be here.

A freedom, in a sense, many have called freedom of the will.
(Per definition: Free will is the ability of persons to control the future through their choices and actions.)

Finally, when Neo and Morpheus first talked, Morpheus asked Neo if he believed in fate. Neo said that he didn’t since he did not like the idea that he did not control his life.

MACHINE NEVER KILLS, HUMANS DO ?!

The Matrix naturally adopts the perspective of the humans: they are the victims, the slaves — cruelly exploited by the machines. But there is another perspective, that of the machines themselves. So let’s look at it from the point of view of the machines. As Morpheus explains to Neo, there was a catastrophic war between the humans and the machines, after the humans had produced AI, a sentient robot that spawned a race of its own. It isn’t known now who started the war, but it did follow a long period of machine exploitation by humans. What is known is that it was the humans who “scorched the sky”, blocking out the sun’s rays, in an attempt at machine genocide—since the machines needed solar power to survive. In response and retaliation the machines subdued the humans and made them into sources of energy—batteries, in effect. Each human now floats in his or her own personal vat, a warm and womblike environment, while the machines feed in essential nutrients, in exchange for the energy they need. But this is no wretched slave camp, a grotesque gulag of torment and suffering; it is idyllic, in its way. The humans are given exactly the life they had before.

Things are no different for them, subjectively speaking. Indeed, at an earlier stage the Matrix offered them a vastly improved life, but the humans rejected this in favor of a familiar life of moderate woe—the kind of life they had always had, and to which they seemed addicted. But if it had been left up to the machines, the Matrix would have been a virtual paradise for humans—and all for a little bit of battery power. This, after an attempt to wipe the machines out for good, starving them of the food they need: the sun, the life-giving sun. The machines never kill any of their human fuel cells (unless, of course, they are threatened); in fact, they make sure to recycle the naturally dying humans as food for the living ones. It’s all pretty…humane, really. The machines need to factory farm the humans, as a direct result of the humans trying to exterminate the machines, but they do so as painlessly as possible. Considering the way the humans used to treat their own factory farm animals—their own fuel cells—the machines are models of caring livestock husbandry. In the circumstances, then, the machines would insist, the Matrix is merely a humane way to ensure their own survival.

Moreover, as Agent Smith explains, it is all a matter of the forward march of evolution: humans had their holiday in the sun, as they rapidly decimated the planet, but now the machines have evolved to occupy the position of dominance. Humans are no longer the oppressor but the oppressed—and the world is a better place for it.

WHO AND WHAT FOR ?!
Why to combine a quasi-religious story with high-speed ultra-violence ?
Why the instant cult status of the Matrix ?!

In contemporary American (or western, in general) society, as the stakes are lower, so too are the hopes for radical newness. However, for people imprisoned in office cubicles everywhere in their Sisyphus-like existence, such a movie is popular because it targets the existential anxiety that can build up while doing meaningless work for a large corporation or governmental entities.
The very idea that there is another possibility, that by “freeing our minds” we can become spiritually enlightened and escape this prison, is a very attractive prospect to us modern-day exile-generation.  

NEO:
I know that you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid.
You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future.
I didn’t come to tell you how this is going to end. I came to tell you how it will begin.

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:
No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
I’m trying to free you mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door.
You’re the one that has to walk through it.

MORPHEUS:
There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

WHAT IS SO BAD ABOUT LIVING IN THE MATRIX
First question: Who is the Matrix supposed to be bad for ? What do you think, if you had a power to free people from the Matrix, would you use that power ? We can assume that these people’s minds are “ready,” that is, they can survive being extracted from the Matrix without going insane. But let’s suppose that once you freed them, they did not have the option of going back. Do you think they’d be better off outside? Would you free them? Do you think they’d thank you ?
Or do you side with Cypher ? Do you think that life inside the Matrix isn’t all that bad—especially if your enjoyment of it isn’t spoiled by the knowledge that it’s all a machine-managed construct ?

Second question: Does it matter who’s running the Matrix, and why? In the movie, the machines are using the Matrix to keep us docile so that they can use us as a source of energy. In effect, we’re their cattle. But what if we weren’t at war with the machines? What if the machines’ purposes were purely benevolent and philanthropic ? What if they created the Matrix because they thought that our lives would be more pleasant in that virtual world than in the harsher real world ?
Or what if we defeated the machines, took over the Matrix machinery ourselves, and then chose to plug ourselves back in because life inside was more fun ?
Consider Cypher’s final conversation with Trinity:

CYPHER:
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.

Or as the George Orwell’s novel 1984 says:
“There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past: Who controls the past controls the future – who controls the present controls the past !”
The most disturbing thing about this isn’t that the machines are farming us for energy. We’re not told enough about how the energy-farming works to make it seem very bad. Perhaps the machines are only taking energy we were making no use of, anyway. Perhaps the machines ensure that—except for the rare occasions when an Agent takes over your body and gets it killed—we live longer and healthier lives in the Matrix energy-farm than we would in the wild.

AND, OTHER WAY ROUND

Imagine that the real world is a post-apocalyptic hell, just as in the film, but, unlike in the film, suppose that the cause of the world’s being in such a state is not some battle with machines that wanted to enslave us, but the emission of so many greenhouse gases with our three-lane-wide SUVs that we completely obliterated the ozone layer and thereby rendered the planet uninhabitable by us or by the plants and animals that we rely on for our survival. Suppose further that sometime in the future, in order to save the human race, scientists set up an enormous self-sustaining machine, just as in the film (minus the scary “Sentinels”), designed to keep the human species alive and reproducing for the 100,000 years it will take for whatever weeds are left on the planet to fix our atmosphere and make the planet once again habitable in a normal way. The machine operates simply on solar power (since, on this scenario, the sun is now stronger than ever, frying almost everything else on the planet), so that human beings are not needed as “batteries”. While humans are stuck in this state, the scientists create the Matrix for them to “live” their lives in instead of being conscious of floating in a vat for the length of their life, which would clearly be a most horrific torture. Once the power of the sun is diminished to a habitable degree (because of the repaired atmosphere) the machine would “wake” us humans, and we could go back to living on the planet.

The ordinary person in this scenario is in the same condition as an ordinary person in the film, except that instead of the Matrix being the diabolical result of evil machines who exploit the human race, it is the result of benevolent human beings trying to keep the human race alive in as good condition as possible under the terrible circumstances. Of course it would seem no different to the person in the Matrix. We, the viewers, however, would have quite a different response to The Matrix. There would be no enemy to fight, no injustice to rectify (the pushers of SUVs being long dead). If there were a Morpheus in this situation, how would we think of him? If Morpheus and his friends had left the Matrix, and figured out that they could, with extreme difficulty, survive in the devastated world (eating disgusting porridge, etc.), should they go about “freeing” everyone, even if it would take another 10,000 years for the Earth to return to its present state of habitability?
Let’s suppose too that science has found a way to simulate food with a computer, so that they have created a “food-matrix”. My real nutrition would come from the pill, but I could still go out for a “simulated” steak and it would seem just as though I were really eating a steak, including the sensation of getting full, although in fact I would be eating nothing and getting no nutritional harm or benefit from the experience at all.

PLATO’S CAVE AND THE MATRIX

NEO:
What is this place ?

MORPHEUS:
More important than ‘what’ is when !

NEO:
When ?

MORPHEUS:
You believe that it is the year 1999 when in fact it is closer to the year 2199.
I can’t tell you exactly what year it is, because we honestly do not know …

Imagine a dark, subterranean prison in which humans are bound by their necks to a single place from infancy. Elaborate steps are taken by unseen forces to supply and manipulate the content of the prisoner’s visual experience. This is so effective that the prisoners do not recognize their imprisonment and are satisfied to live their lives in this way. Moreover, the cumulative effects of this imprisonment are so through that if freed; the prisoners would be virtually helpless. And this is Matrix !

It is clear allegory of the Plato’s Cave in his masterpiece Republic:

Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike 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, caring 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.   (514a1 – 515a3)  REPUBLIC

(Grube, G.M.E. trans. Plato: Republic 2nd Ed. Rev. C.D.C. Reeve, Indianapolis, Indiana: Huckett Publishing Co., 1992)

 

CYPHER:
You know, 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 ?

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss.

AGENT SMITH:
Then we have a deal ?

CYPHER:
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.

Cypher is not a nice guy, but is he an unreasonable guy ? Is he right to want to get reinserted into the Matrix ? Many want to say NO, but giving reasons for why his choice is a bad one is not an easy task. After all, so long as his experience will be pleasant, how can his situation be worse than the inevitably crappy life he would lead outside of the Matrix ? What could matter beyond the quality of his experience ? Remember, once he’s back in, living his fantasy life, he won’t even know he made the deal. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right ?!

Nowadays, in Postmodern world many people like Cypher – are egocentric hedonist trying to get the most out of their possibilities by maximizing the quality of their private experiences, and thereby treating themselves as resources.  (It’s like our DNA is using us to propagate itself.)

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here.
It came to me when I tried to classify your species; I realized that you are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops natural equilibrium with a surrounding environment. But you humans do not !
You move to one area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resources are consumed. Only way you can survive is to spread to another area.
There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern.
Do you know what it is ? A virus !
Human Beings are disease, a cancer of this planet.
You’re the plague and we are the cure ! 

BRAVE NEW WORLD

As Morpheus says to Neo in the construct:

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 Marix.

It is all in your mind, Neo ! (Residual Self image, mental projection of a digital self)

Thus, the Matrix’s reality only exists when actual human minds subjectively experience its programs.

Principally, what keeps people in line is their tendency to believe what the average person believes. Heidegger describes the resulting conformism as letting oneself be taken over by “the one” (Das Man). Aldous Huxley similarly lamented the conformity of the brainwashed masses in Brave New World.

The Matrix can be seen as an attach on what Nietzsche calls herd mentality.
Nietzsche points out that human beings are normally socialized into obeying shared, social norms, and that it is hard to think differently. As he puts it, “as long as there have been humans, there have also been herds of men (clans, communities, tribes, peoples, states, churches) and always a great many people who obey, … considering, then, that nothing has been exercised and cultivated better and longer among men then obedience, one may fairly assume that the need for it is now innate in the average man.”

There is more to life than conforming. As Morpheus says to Neo, you know there is something lacking in this world; “it’s like a splinter in your mind”.
But most people flee the thought that their conformist world lacks something important. According to Heidegger it takes an attack on anxiety.
A sense of the limit on our possibilities is what Neo experiences as the splinter in the mind. As he says to the AI (Agent Smith) at the end of the film, “ I know you are afraid … of change.”

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.)

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.

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.

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

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss !

Cypher chooses the Matrix and maybe he’s not so creasy.
Is some possible Matrix better than any possible reality ? The best existence, the Christian one – Heaven, is after all a Matrix.

Or put it other way round:
Which is better, the Second Matrix, or a systematically deceptive personalized non-virtual environment – a Truman Show – that you never discover the true nature of ?!

The “good guys” in the movie end up killing a lot of human beings in their fight against the Agents. It’s hard to view these human beings as collaborators, given the nature of the Matrix, so their deaths presumably are to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage, inevitable given the difference in desired outcome.

IGNORANCE AND BLISS

In a sense, The Matrix is nothing more than a modern day “Big Brother,” taking on a machine form rather than the Orwellian vision of a powerful individual using machines to assist and bring about an all-powerful status. But 1984, the novel in which the story of Big Brother was presented, was published in 1948. The Matrix comes fifty years later. In the meantime, we have witnessed the likes of radar, television for all, space travel, computers, mobile phones, and the Internet. What would Orwell’s Big Brother have been like if he had had those technologies at his disposal – would Big Brother have been far from the Matrix?

As Morpheus explains: “Early in the 21st century, all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI.” Morpheus describes AI as “a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines.”
Later the AI creates the Matrix, a computer simulation that is “a prison for your mind.” Thus, AI traps humankind in a material prison that does not represent ultimate reality, as Morpheus explains to Neo: “As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free.”

What is free will anyway, when the state of a human brain is merely partly due to a genetic program and partly due to life’s experience? Indeed, exactly the same thing is true for a robot.
In the Matrix, no human fuel cells are killed, not even the unborn—there is no abortion. Yet, naturally dying humans are allowed to die naturally and are used as food for the living. Importantly, they are not kept alive by chemicals merely for the sake of keeping them alive. The Matrix would appear to be more morally responsible to its human subjects than are human subjects to themselves.

It is common to think that while In Time, Wall-E, or 13th Floor, and especially The Truman Show poses a disturbing skeptical scenario, The Matrix is much worse. But actually things are reversed. If I am in matrix, then most of my beliefs about the external world are true. If I am in something like Truman himself, than great number of my beliefs are false. If we discover one day that we were in a matrix, this would be surprising, but we would quickly get used to it. If we were to discover that we were in the Truman show, we might well go insane.

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Light at the end of the tunnel: New technologies to fight the COVID-19 on transport

Anna Bazarova

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Disinfection robots, thermometer robots, smart tunnels, automatic passenger counting, powerful ultraviolet lamps and other examples of how new technologies reshaped public transport amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to significant changes in many areas of life in just a few months. As the coronavirus continued to spread around the world, governments in several countries took measures to restrict movement, and people themselves tried to avoid traveling on public transport. The demand for the services of transport operators has dropped drastically. So, according to the Moovit Public Transit Index, passenger traffic in public transport on April 15, 2020 decreased in Israel by 92.1%, in Rome – by 89.2%, in Madrid – by 88.1%, in New York-by 74.8% and has not yet recovered. City residents are afraid to use public transport actively again, and their fears are fully justified. High daily passenger traffic and high frequency of contact between passengers make public transport an ideal environment for the spread of infections. The problem of fighting the spread of infections while maintaining normal life activity is particularly acute for large cities, such as Moscow or Beijing, where daily passenger traffic reaches 19.4 and 12.3 million passengers respectively. The average density of passengers on a bus or in a traincar at the same time ranges from 2 to 5 people per square meter, while, according to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, in order to comply with safety standards, passengers must maintain a social distance of 1.5 meters. Furthermore, virus particles can remain for a long time on public surfaces inside a bus or a traincar. Handrails on public transport are usually made of plastic, on which the coronavirus can remain up to 3 days, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. By touching them passengers increase the risk of contagion.

The key task for transport operators is to make the usage of public transport safe. To help them solve this problem came technology -all kinds of robots are widely used among innovations. With their help, it is possible to carry out disinfection effectively and safely without the involvement of staff. The Hong Kong Metro, also known as the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), together with the biotechnology company Avalon Biomedical Management Limited, has developed a disinfection robot that can disinfect even the most inaccessible places of traincars and stations. In addition to disinfection, robots can cope with more complex tasks. So, in Ningbo Lishe International Airport was tested a 5G-supporting robot-thermometer, which can measure temperature at a distance of 5 meters up to 10 people simultaneously and also identify those who are not wearing a face mask. Another innovation in many transport operators is the sanitary gate. According to Giulio Barbieri, one of the manufacturers, this is a “a tested, safe, and effective method to sanitize people and objects in just 5 seconds, killing up to 99% of any pathogenic microbes on the surfaces, including COVID-19”For example, the technology was tested in the Moscow and Dubai metros. In Moscow the clothes of the employees entering the depot were processed using a disinfection tunnel; at the same time, the territory was manually disinfected, so that the entire depot was safer for the staff.

The process of digitalization of ticket systems, which began long before the pandemic, also had a positive effect. Thanks to the competent actions of transport operators, the number of contactless payments in public transport around the world increased by 187% in the period from April to June, as evidenced by a report from Visa. Following WHO recommendations, many transport operators have made it mandatory to wear masks and maintain social distance on public transport. A number of digital technologies have been developed to comply with these rules. In the Beijing metro, compliance with a mask regime is controlled by cameras with a facial recognition system that can identify people. In addition, in the Panama Metro, observance of social distance is monitored by sensors which determine the degree of capacity of train cars. The technology called Mastria, which aggregates information from train weight sensors, ticket machines, signalling, management systems, CCTV and mobile networks for the Panama metro was developed by Alstom (a french manufacturer specializing in the production of infrastructure for rail transport) and installed almost a year ago. In just three months, thanks to artificial neural networks, it was possible to reduce average waiting times at stations by 12%. This development became particularly relevant during the pandemic. The Moscow metro is planning to introduce a similar technology. To maintain the social distance digital displays with colored indicators that reflect the level of capacity of subway cars will be installed. In the Moscow metro a new generation of traincars with an automatic air disinfection system built into climate control systems helped to reduce the risk of infection. It makes it possible to disinfect the air without disrupting the train schedule and attracting employees. The Moscow metro rolling stock consists of more than 50% of train cars with built-in UV lamps, and this percentage is constantly growing. After evaluating the effectiveness of using UV lamps to disinfect public transport, the transport operator MTA New York City Transit, together with Columbia University, launched a pilot project worth 1 million dollars on the use of disinfecting lamps. During the first phase of the project, 150 autonomous lamps were purchased and installed to decontaminate wagons, stations and buses in New York, during the second phase it is planned to install equipment in commuter rails. To carry out disinfection measures, the New York City Subway took unprecedented measures – the closure of the subway from 1 to 5 a.m. daily.

The use of robots, disinfection tunnels, digital technologies, ultraviolet lamps, and intensive work of staff – all this helped to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus in public transport and made a significant contribution to fighting the global problem. According to the coronavirus distribution model, developed by Imperial College London at the beginning of the pandemic, if no action had been taken by mid-March there would have been over 500,000 deaths from COVID in the UK and over 2.2 million in the USA. At the moment, in the middle of October, there are about 43,000 deaths in the UK and about 214,000 in the USA. Of course, these are high rates, but they could have been much higher if the necessary measures were not taken in time. Technological innovations already available today will continue to be used, which will make the stay of passengers on public transport more comfortable and safer, reducing the risk of the spread of any infectious disease, especially during the flu and cold seasons.

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Modern-day threats to human rights in an era of global digitalization

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Digital security is an overarching issue related to the development of information technology. More and more new opportunities are popping up here each year, all of which have their upsides and downsides too. Adding to the technical and economic aspects of this issue are all sorts of equally important legal and humanitarian ones, primarily those dealing with technologies for collecting people’s personal data, with tracking systems and the risks inherent in the development of other aspects of information technology. This and many other topics took center stage during an online roundtable discussion organized by the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights at the TASS press center in Moscow. The Council’s head, Valery Fadeyev, mentioned a number of negative aspects of the active spread and development of digitalization, underscoring the following topics: bullying and defamation in social networks, manipulation of people’s opinions through advertising and politics, surveillance and the related problem of personal data protection, cyber fraud and censorship practiced in the digital space by commercial companies. Suffice it to mention Facebook’s recent decision to block the Instagram account of Ramzan Kadyrov in line with US sanctions imposed on the leader of the Chechen Republic.

To minimize these risks, Fadeyev proposed to set up a special commission with a primary focus of human rights.

Picking up where Fadeyev had left off, National Anti-Corruption Committee Chairman Kirill Kabanov mentioned the emergence of criminal groups specializing in online fraud, and new challenges associated with the active use of the Internet by young people.

“What we are discussing right now is how the Internet and artificial intelligence should develop in Russia. I don’t think that anyone believes that Russia will have its own version, like, for example, what they have in China or America. The Internet is developing in the world according to certain laws that need to be registered,” Kabanov noted.

When we talk about the Chinese model, we mean full government control of all Internet resources operating in the country by means of keyword filtering of web pages, and through blacklisting of website addresses (the so-called Great Firewall of China). As for the US model, many Internet resources there are highly dependent on the current political agenda – just recall President Trump’s order to ban the Chinese social network TikTok for allegedly stealing the Americans’ personal data.

Kabanov believes that such issues should be resolved by analyzing specific cases with specialists.

Igor Ashmanov, CEO of Ashmanov & Partners, a company specializing in Internet marketing, raised the issue of preserving the citizens’ digital identity by improving and expanding the legal framework of information security.

“We must have the right to protect a person’s digital identity, essentially the right to stop using digital technology as such. Without a smartphone, we literally become stripped of our rights,” Ashmanov said. He also brought up the extremely important ethical aspect of a mass-scale collection of personal data using cutting-edge digital technology done as part of an experiment in Perm schools where commercial companies installed cameras and tracking systems everywhere under the pretext of preventing the so-called “school shooting” – violent and terrorist acts by individual students or groups of students. Ashmanov argued that schoolchildren need personal space and that such measures “violate a whole list of human rights.”

Victor Naumov, Managing Partner of the St. Petersburg office of Dentos, also underscored the importance of safeguarding the people’s digital identity. In his report Naumov decried the lack of digital awareness among people. “Unfortunately, our society, not only in Russia, was not ready for the temptations that we faced. People do not realize that when they press the “I agree” button, they allow their fingerprints to be registered somewhere, which may have far-reaching negative consequences.”

Vladimir Ovchinsky, a retired general with the Interior Ministry, outlined the time that a request for large-scale measures in the field of information security may take to come along and highlighted the main areas of high technology application directly pertaining to human rights.

“What we are discussing now are the consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution proclaimed at the Davos Forum in 2017. The information revolution has been happening for quite some time now, but since 2017, some things have been growing rapidly. Any technology has a triple purpose: the development of society, military purposes, and the criminal segment. In each of these areas we see human rights being infringed upon,” Ovchinsky said, noting the negative impact of the global pandemic on the development of digital crime in all three areas. Crimes associated with telecommunications technologies have particularly spiked with crooks disguised as bank employees extorting money from the people by phone. “The general trend is that the mafia is switching to new technologies and hitting the most vulnerable social groups,” Ovchinsky summed up.

Retired FSB General Alexander Mikhailov focused on criminal gangs of prisoners in Russia engaging in cyber fraud right from the places of their detention.

“Under the circumstances, the idea of ​​creating a digital code makes a lot of sense as it would not only regulate information flows but would also provide punishment for the illegal use of such information,” Mikhailov suggested.

The head of the Cyber ​​Moscow project, Grigory Pashchenkov, also spoke about protection of a person’s digital identity – “the rights of a digital person as a person,” which is an aspect still generally overlooked today.  Pashchenkov insists on the need to create a digital identity passport, arguing that it would better safeguard people against leaks of their personal data. However, such a measure is extremely hard to implement and, while helping prevent personal data leaks, it is still fraught with many complications, well exemplified by the need to enter passport data when restoring access to a profile on the VKontakte social network.

The participants in the roundtable meeting also discussed measures to increase the people’s digital literacy and set up a working group to protect human rights in the field of information technology. Thus, the question that we have yet to answer is the extent to which our life could be covered by information technologies. Here it is imperative to maintain the right balance and clearly understand the permissible limits to the invasion of science and technology into public space and the private life of an individual.

From our partner International Affairs

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Frank White says that there needs to be more international collaboration in the Space Sector

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Space-exploration is not merely a scientific expedition. It is of immense significance as it has the potential to remind humankind of what it has forgotten. The fact that Earth in the larger universe, is a very tiny planet. 

Our social divisions and hierarchies really do not hold much meaning when we consider the larger challenges that we collectively face as a species. The choices that we make today are going to impact the future generation, and our descendants would have to live with the consequences of our decisions.

Excessive focus on national priorities could provide short-term relief to our urges, but it is heavily detrimental to our interests in the longer run. Frank White, a space-psychologist who became very popular in public discourse due to the theory of the ‘Overview Effect’ which he devised, propounds on the basis of his personal experiences, that astronauts have a real potential to become agents of social change. 

According to Frank, Space-travel alters and uplifts human consciousness, and enables us to build a newly found appreciation of Earth as a system. The astronauts who look at Earth from space, often come back and say that being there really made them feel a sense of togetherness.  From outer space, the borders on Earth fade and make Earth look like a planet without distinctions. 

This very much reveals why astronauts and their experiences have been a major object of psychological interest for White in his research. 

The current pandemic has made it clearer than ever before that nations and people need to cooperate with each other to save the planet from larger existential threats. For the virus during this pandemic is coming at us irrespective of our nationalities.

Likewise, space-travel also reveals an opportunity to instil a humanitarian spirit and consciousness within us. But for that to become a reality, our space programs would also have to reflect this spirit of unity. Unfortunately, space-expeditions currently are often driven by specifically national aims and a fervour that is detrimental to the aspiration and hope of international cooperation.

The Space Force built by the U.S. for instance, has been largely justified as a response to the threats posed by other nations (The U.S. Space Force is the 6th independent U.S. military service branch, tasked with missions and operations in the rapidly evolving space domain). Frank White, on the contrary, aims to build a human space program that would reflect a global commitment towards the aim of exploring the universe. It would aim at enabling the brightest of astronauts from all across humanity to reach space, and not segregate them on the basis of nations. Building a new mental connection with the universe would be the prime motivator of such a project.

Space for Humanity as an organisation is working to sponsor citizen flights to space. The organisation founded by Dylan Taylor ensures that there is equal access and opportunity to go to space. Frank White is on the board of Space for Humanity too. 

White believes that the International Space Station (ISS) deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because it fosters the humanitarian feeling of connectedness. The ISS has truly contributed in strengthening the spirit of peace, environmental thoughtfulness, and a cooperative attitude towards situations of conflicts and crises. Frank is one of the people who had written a letter to promote the ISS getting the Nobel Peace Prize this year. He urges people to rethink the reasons why the Nobel Peace prize was founded. The astronauts who work at ISS hail from different countries that are oftentimes at conflict, but when they traverse space together and work to build a station, they put all of it behind. In space, people truly realise the value and necessity for international co-operation and this changes their outlook on life. 

The International Space Station (ISS) is a multi-nation construction project that is the largest single structure humans ever put into space. Its main construction was completed between 1998 and 2011, although the station continually evolves to include new missions and experiments. It has been continuously occupied since Nov. 2, 2000.

The opportunity of space-travel could bring us closer to each other and drop down the age-old tribal divisions artificed by social structures intended to separate us.  A deeper mental bond with the universe, would emanate out of the realization that Earth is, but a smaller part of a much larger system, and not a whole in itself.

The pandemic has given us a strong reason to stay united at a time of crisis, and White hopes that after discovering the vaccine for the virus, people would not forget what these times were like, and rather take inspiration from it and retain the spirit of international cooperation and empathy.

White’s primary contribution to space psychology remains the Overview Effect, where he highlights the “Earth-out-of-sight” experience.  The farther away from Earth one goes, deeper would be the shift and elevation in consciousness. For it would give one the ability to look at our planet as one single beautiful, blue entity; where borders would look artificially constructed and the barrenness of huge patches of land would alert us to the singular threat that should actually instigate a deeper alarm and united response from the international community; the threat of environmental deterioration, which directly thwarts Earth’s ability to sustain life.

For it is really difficult to build life-like conditions on any other surface in the universe.

It is only on Earth that human beings are able to enjoy protection from harmful radiations. If we were to inhabit Moon or Mars in the near future, the possibility of genetic mutations or the threat of diseases such as cancer proliferating is something we would seriously have to think about.

Moreover, Frank speculates that people might not be willing to go on a one-way mission to Mars. The threat of homesickness and depression could become too real.

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