According to rumours, the suicide of tax evader, bitcoin supporter and antivirus software pioneer John McAfee (1945-2021) – a British naturalised US citizen – has prompted both grief and new conspiracy theories.
After his evading taxes and dribbling the US authorities for many years, a Spanish court ordered – in the first instance – McAfee’s extradition a few hours before he was found dead. If he had been extradited, the 75-year-old man would have faced life imprisonment in the United States of America.
Former National Security Agency employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden criticised the global influence of US law enforcement agencies and warned that McAfee’s untimely end may not be the only one. He wrote on Twitter: “Europe should not extradite those accused of non-violent crimes to such an unfair justice system – and to such a cruel prison system – to the point that those accused in a judicial prosecution in the United States would rather die than be subjected to it”.
The founder of Cardano – an open source project linked to cryptocurrencies that aims to create a public blockchain platform (a digital ledger whose entries are grouped into ‘blocks’, concatenated in chronological order, and whose integrity is guaranteed by the use of cryptography) for the management of computer protocols that facilitate, check or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract, sometimes enabling the partial or total exclusion of a contractual clause (smart contract) – Charles Hoskinson, praised McAfee for his contribution to computer science, calling him “one of the most mysterious and interesting people in the history of cryptocurrency and computing”. “He is also a deeply troubled person” – Hoskinson added – pointing to McAfee’s well-documented personal trauma from his substance abuse problems.
“The reason for the suicide seems to be obvious: McAfee was 75 years old and extradition to the United States of America was likely. If found guilty, he would have faced over 30 years in prison and it is certain that he would also have been incarcerated […] He seemed rather determined to choose to end his life in a Spanish prison instead of a US one.”
Bitcoin influencer and podcaster Anthony Pompliano recalls that McAfee was “kind, funny and very smart”.
“I once had the opportunity to spend a day with the legendary McAfee on a boat in the Bahamas. I will always remember that day. I have great respect for one of the most unique people in the world.”
Kim Dotcom – a German entrepreneur and computer scientist with Finnish citizenship – is an Internet entrepreneur who is fighting extradition charges from New Zealand over his file-sharing network Megaupload. He regrets that McAfee’s drug abuse robbed him of his potential. He said: ‘He was a pioneer in data security. I always thought it was too difficult for him to be around other people. He should have avoided drugs and instead concentrate on using his ingenuity all the time. When he was lucid, he was dedicated to everyone’s freedom”.
Although McAfee’s legal representative in Spain told Reuters that McAfee committed suicide, preferring to hang himself rather than face life in prison, predictably the Internet is full of conspiracy theories claiming that McAfee did not die by his own hand.
Shortly after McAfee’s official Instragram account shared the image of the letter ‘Q’, controversies and allegations were raised, igniting the imagination of QAnon conspiracy theorists, according to whom there is a hypothetical secret plot organised by an alleged Deep State (which can be identified in some hidden powers) that would act against the former President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, and his supporters.
Business Insider reported that QAnon influencers on Telegram have hundreds of thousands of followers and are sharing posts suspecting suicide stories.
McAfee’s tweets have been republished since the day he died, and one of them dates back to December 2019, when McAfee claimed that the government had threatened to assassinate him. Hence there are many who do not believe any version of his suicide.
Other conspiracy theorists followed a June 2019 post in which he claimed to have a data treasure trove of 31 TB and more, containing evidence of government corruption.
Every eccentric millionaire who argues with the government claims to have evidence of corruption, and if tragedy befalls them, everything will be made public. In the end, tragedy falls on many of them, but the evidence is never released to the media, unlike we often see in US movies.
It is worth recalling that McAfee was no stranger to bold and strange statements, including a promise that if the price of Bitcoin did not exceed one million US dollars by 2021, he would devour his supporters on national television.
In the last weeks of his life, McAfee’s tweets in prison had also become increasingly sombre. In May 2021, he revealed he had discussed suicide with a cellmate: “Today a person who is facing a difficult situation has asked me if I know a painless method of suicide. I have little experience in this field and I am not very forthcoming. Surprisingly, the tone of the discussion then slipped into how to spend the time”. It is worth noting that the businessman had no particular reason for the suicide. The fact is that the Spanish court’s decision on extradition was not final. Hence McAfee could have subsequently tried to appeal that decision. It is alarming in this story that even last autumn McAfee stated he would not commit suicide under any circumstances.
Javier Villalba, a Spanish lawyer for McAfee, told Reuters he believed that McAfee could simply not tolerate being locked up in a prison: “This is the result of a cruel system. There is no reason for this elderly person to be in prison for so long.”
Conspiracy theories are flourishing in the United States. Probably fewer people believe in the “moon conspiracy”, which is – after all – a matter of national pride. The rest of the stories are similar: vaccinations and HIV – a conspiracy of pharmaceutical companies; global warming – a conspiracy of climatologists; Kennedy’s assassination by the special services – the said special services even staged the 9/11 attacks and school massacres, etc.
The story of Bill Gates implanting microchips in COVID-19 vaccines to track us has also sold well: according to the latest polls, 44% of the Republican Party’s members believe it.
The problem is that such views – sometimes naive, sometimes strange and sometimes wild – often have consequences. Some people think 5G towers are really spreading the coronavirus and go and burn them down. Others refuse to vaccinate their children, and so massively that the WHO included it for the first time in its list of threats to human health. With the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine, this could become an even bigger problem.
It is vain to think that conspiracy theories are about someone else, and not the smartest people, and certainly not about you and your environment. A 2018 poll showed that 67% of Russians believed in a secret “world government” (in 2014 it was 45%), and 68% of them have higher education.
Conspiracy theories are not a consistent story to be believed or disbelieved. Rather, it is a multitude of interpretations of individual facts, each of which can occupy any place on a scale ranging from pure absurdity to scientific evidence. Some might consider the enslavement of humanity by aliens incredible, but oppose vaccination – or vice versa.
Between scientific facts and explicit conspiracy theories, there is a large grey area, within which for each of us there is a completely logical explanation of the world, which to someone else will seem like a conspiracy theory.
Our image of the world is influenced by rather old settings of the brain and psyche. It is influenced by archaic settings of the brain and psyche: detection of apparent and insubstantial intentions; fear of uncertainty; generations of stories and distrust of strangers.
When the subject is confronted with stress due to external circumstances, thinking runs the risk of becoming more conspiratorial, and hence developing the above mentioned four characteristics.
The Indian Drone Industry is Growing Leaps & Bounds
Iranian drones have wreaked havoc in war-stricken Ukraine. When it comes to drones until a few years back it was the USA Vs China, but now all countries have realized the potential of these flying machines.
Bill Gates had predicted that drones, overall, will be more impactful than one can ever imagine or think to help society in a positive way, but sadly, today they are being used in warfare at a very large scale. Where does India stand in the Drone Making Spectre?
Today, India uses drones for a variety of causes. It has BVLOS (Beyond-visual-line-of-sight) flights, mosquito eradication drones, drones used for agricultural needs – like spraying pesticides etc., then there are seed-copters used for aforestation (planting seedballs). During the pandemic Indian drones supplied vaccines to far out regions, as estimates suggest that more than 24 lakh Indians die of treatable conditions every year simply because medicines don’t reach them on time. Drones are bridging the gap when it comes to inaccessibility of roads and other means of transport.
In India, drones can be seen everywhere, in weddings events and agricultural fields. There is a huge demand for drones and the Government is encouraging the industry to grow further. How is this emergence happening? Smit Shah, President of the Drone Federation of India is filled with ideas of zestful entrepreneurship and innovation for the Indian drone industry. He shares his views about how things in India’s Drone industry are shaping up.
“Since 2018, we have had multiple regulations and lot of work is happening on that front. Finally, in August 2021 we had our regulations liberalised. So, after multiple policy attempts and iterations we were able to crack the right policy. This is the policy of liberalisation and incentive towards the industry. Since mid 2021, we have had a boost in the ecosystem. We have multiple start-ups now, over 200 working in the drone manufacturing and technology space in the country.” says Shah.
The idea to ease the regulations has worked wonders for the industry and start-ups getting involved means a lot of innovation and experimentation is ongoing in the Indian drone industry. So, how are drones being used in governance and management? There is a lot of talk of drones being used for surveillance at borders. In what ways does the Indian Government use drones? Shah says that multiple State Governments, the Union Government, various departments and private sector corporations are now adapting to drone usage at a very large scale. The Government has launched the ‘Swamitwa Scheme’ where 6.5 lakh villages are being mapped across the entire country through drones. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has mandated monthly monitoring of all highways via drones. The armed forces are looking for buying drones for security surveillance on all borders using drones. Also they are being used in tracking logistics.
India is using drones in almost all important departments, especially in defence the country is trying to procure and develop the best possible technology for which many private corporations like the Adani Group have forged Joint Ventures with major International drone component manufacturing companies.
For the purpose of warfare India is using drones on the borders to keep an eye on the enemy. It endeavours to make more advancement in the domain. How are things shaping up on that front?
“During warfare you need round the clock monitoring and intelligence and capacity building. So, surveillance capability on the borders and logistic capability on the border means transporting various kinds of resources to the border outposts, including the high altitude regions is what is being looked at now. In India, Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAF), Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) are technological terms but are interchangeably used. All these are being used in our border security,” informs Shah.
India is rapidly scaling up its drone industry and is investing a lot on research and development. Not just for domestic use, it plans to use drones intensively for border security by the armed forces. Does India manufacture raw materials and components used in drones? What plans does it have to reduce dependence on other countries and boost its own home-built production capability? What is the road ahead?
“A majority of the components are imported from different countries. Now we have Indian start-ups and corporations who are engaged in building local supply chains and local design on drone components. The PLI incentive is encouraging for manufacturing drones and their related components in India. If we see the overall drone ecosystem of drones in India, it envisioned success lies on 4 key pillars. First is ease of doing business, under which policy was liberalised and much of the licence fees was reduced. Second is the financial incentive, like the Production Linked Incentive(PLI) under which domestic manufacturing has a 20% incentive with almost zero upfront commitment. One is not needed to do any plant or machinery investment or any minimum employment. It is a straight investment based on one’s capacity, so if you produce goods worth INR 100, you get 20% of your value addition. This is a sunrise sector, so rather than complicating incentives by tying them up with employment or revenue or upfront capital investment – it’s all straight in the face. The third part is protectionism or favouring the local industry via an import ban. At present, import of drones as a whole are banned but the import of components is not. Fourth is enhancing our own skilling, R&D, trying to becoming Athmnirbhar (Self Dependant) in every possible way and benefit our own industries. Though, a lot of technology for the smaller drones comes from across the world including China, US and Europe, for the bigger drones, like the ones used to patrol the borders or for offensive ops, it is specialized so that is coming from our partners or the domestic manufacturers,” elaborates Shah.
Many reforms by the Government have been introduced to encourage domestic production. It is confident that its own ecosystem will battle all odds and will be able to emerge as a frontrunner in drone making. The Government and industry are working in tandem to achieve this goal. In January, 2022, the Indian Government has offered a 100% subsidy or 10 lakhs, whichever is less, up to March 2023 to promote the use of drones for agricultural purposes and reduce the labour burden on the farmers. Also a contingency fund of INR 6000 per acre has been set up for hiring Drones from the Custom Hiring Centres (CHC). Together, the subsidy and contingency funds shall help farmers access latest drone technology at a very reasonable price.
Does India export drones to any other countries. If NO, by when does it intend to do so? What are its plans to become a recognized name in the drone export segment?
“Slowly and steadily India is looking at exporting. We are looking at certain initiatives to scale up our export segment and expect good results very soon. Our first goal has to be design independence. In terms of supply chains it is difficult to become 100% India made as many raw materials are imported. For that we need to have our own designs and supply chain reliability. In supply chain reliability there are 3 things, first we have domestic supply chains, second we have primary supply chains and third is we have secondary alternate supply chains. If we build good supply chains then we do not have be dependant by the traditional definition because then we have backup & balance of the supply chain. In today’s global civilization we can’t become completely independent. The right approach is to be dependant but also balanced. Some aspects of our drones may be better than others and vice versa. We are not yet ripened in this as our Information Technology (IT) sector is. India is trying to have its own electronic manufacturing fabs, so things are gaining momentum. In five years the game will totally change,” asserts Shah confidently.
The industry and Drone Federation of India is optimistic that in a few years to come India will be a champion drone manufacturer and may export to other countries as well. Be it the procurement of raw materials or other critical components it seems to be progressing fast for self-reliance in the drone industry.
Is tech industry still a boys’ club?
Authors: Ash Narain Roy and Jisha Jacob*
The Nobel Prize, says the 2022 literature laureate Annie Ernaux, is an institution “for men.” She further says that “speech has almost always been monopolised by men.” If even the hallowed Nobel Prize is still “bound to traditions” and “is perhaps more masculine,” as the French writer contends, what about the world of science and big tech?
The tech industry remains a male bastion. Citing the abysmally low percentage of female employees, the New York Times says, that the doors to the technology field “remain virtually closed to women.” The Los Angeles Times has similar observations about sexism in Silicon Valley. It says, the tech industry “lags decades behind other industries in its treatment of women.”
The big tech is far worse. Elon Musk, the new Twitter boss, often mocks advocates of the LGBT+ community. It is anybody’s guess where women will find themselves in his scheme of things. He would perhaps expect women to “follow the white rabbit.” (It is assumed if you follow the white rabbit, it will ultimately lead you to the truth). Or you may enter an alternate world. Musk isn’t playing “four-dimensional chess,” he is defending “the future of civilisation”!
Emily Chang in her book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, says that the big tech industry “has self-selected for men: first, anti-social nerds, then, self-confident and risk-taking bros.” No wonder therefore, “deep-rooted sexism prevails” in their universe and their meetings in hot tubs and at strip clubs are considered small ‘pecados’.
That women are under-represented and hold far fewer organisational positions in big tech companies like Meta, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft is an open secret. As Francine Bermen and Jeniffer Lundquist say, a large number of high-profile whistleblowers are women. “Frances Haugen exposed personal data exploitation at Meta, Timnit Gebru and Rebecca Rivers challenged Google on ethics and AI issues, and Janneke Parrish raised concerns about a discriminatory work culture at Apple, among others.” (Bermen, Francine and Jeniffer Lundquist, 2022)
“Why can’t a woman be like a man” has been a grumbling refrain in most walks of life. Literature, science, films, politics have all perpetuated such perceptions. In the footnote of his famous lecture, “The two cultures and the scientific revolution,” eminent British scientist C.P. Snow said that since childhood women are given training to be a “good wife” and a “good mother.” He further said that women lack training to become a good scientist or a physicist. But he ended up saying “whatever we say, we don’t regard women as suitable for scientific careers” for which he would have been heavily trolled today. (Snow 1959) Technology is widely considered a male- dominated industry. Psychologist Janet Morahan-Martin of Bryant University explains that men are more comfortable using a computer since childhood than women. This exposure to technology in the early stage of their lives has led to the masculinization of computer culture.
Big tech and masculinity
What is masculinity? Does it really have to do anything with technology? In a larger sense, masculinity refers to how men perceive themselves. It is a manner of thinking and being that is socially formed. Victor J. Seidler of University of London offers an interesting explanation positing that men have assumed rationality as masculine based on a “rationality appropriated from and denied to others.” Men have made it a basis of male power “affecting what men see, hear and regard as important.” Brian Easlea, in his book Fathering the Unthinkable: Masculinity, Scientists, and the Nuclear Arms Race, argues that men’s propensity for science was mostly a “compensatory mechanism” for their inability to procreate and their vulnerability on the sexual level. (Easlea 1983)
Power and masculinity go hand in hand. The idea of masculinity is often associated with gaining increasingly greater power. Men now stand at the top of the technological pyramid thanks to this power. It appears that using power is fundamentally unbalanced. Men unquestionably make the important decisions. Whenever scientists are mentioned, “men” is always used as the pronoun. For instance, C.P. Snow referred to members of scientific communities as “men of science.” Men are thus at the top of the tech pyramid.
Lucie Greene, author of Silicon States: The Power of Politics of Big Tech and What It Means for our Future, cites the examples of Siri, Alexa, and all the verbal subservient assistants which normalize sexism. Twitter has an atrocious record of failing to address misogyny. Amnesty International has found women’s experience on Twitter as “toxic.” Women continue to be the victims of “digital violence.”
According to one source, women roughly represent about 25 % of technology workforce. When it comes to senior corporate leadership positions, the less said, the better. Only 8.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
The Google UK: Gender Pay Report 2018 says that there are more males than women working at Google in top leadership positions and technical occupations, Due to the underrepresentation of women in senior leadership, technical and engineering roles, and roles with a lengthy tenure, the percentage gaps persist in the majority of the leading tech businesses. Men are more likely than women to fill senior positions. Only four women appear on a random Google search of the top 48 or so tech companies.
Stereotypically gendered technology
The masculinization has produced what is known as stereotypically gendered technology. It is crucial that women work in an industry that is predominately male. Who designs a product and who stands to gain from it should be taken into consideration when it is designed. Men may design a product that is primarily used by women, which could result in subpar design. It might not fit the specifications set forth for technology that women can use. An average-height woman, for instance, cannot reach the bottom of a washing machine tub to pull the items out. Another dated example is the fact that since the 1970s, the crash test dummies used to test car safety have been modelled on men for an average male weight and height. It has only now been rectified. This digital world needs more female designers because it is mostly created by men for men.
Ironically, the early programmers were not men, but women. The 1940s saw computer operation and programming as women’s space. By the 1960s when computing gained prominence, men displaced women who were experts and as Marie Hicks states in her book, Programmed Inequality, the space was altered from a “feminized field of endeavour” to a “distinctly masculine image”. (Hicks 2018)
As per the data provided by Planet Money: NPR, women’s presence in various fields clearly shows that, while medicine, law, and physical sciences saw a significant rise in the number of female students enrolling after 1984, science and technology have seen a sharp decline in the number of female students. There was a perceptible increase between 1975 and 1984, but the trend did not last long as women were ejected from cyberspace.
Women had to learn how to utilise the room-sized supercomputers that the US employed to decipher codes during World War II. A person who programmed the first general-purpose electronic computer during the Second World War was known as a “computer.” Women were portrayed as confident, attractive, and ready to do their part to win the war. They were encouraged to join the workforce by glorifying and glamorizing the role of the working women.
Women made up a significant portion of the tech workforce throughout the World War Two and up until the 1960s. They made important contributions to science and technology.
STEM education’s impact
Women make up approximately 43% of all STEM (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduates in India, one of the highest percentages in the world, but just 14% of scientists, engineers, and technicians in universities and research-development organisations. (Economic Times 2022) The underrepresentation of women in STEM fields is a problem around the world but India’s case is a curious one, despite an increase in the number of female STEM students each year, these higher education levels have not led to greater employment opportunities.
Lack of job opportunities has prompted them to turn to other avenues. Clinical psychologist Joy Harris describes such a phenomenon as “learned technological helplessness”. (Harris 2008)
Studies have shown that young girls would decide if they were good at math or science by the age of 8 – 10 years of age. It is critical to provide them the right opportunities at that young age.
The data further shows that disparity becomes acute at the undergraduate level. They prefer psychology, biological and social sciences over engineering (22%), computer science (20%), and physics (21%). Similarly in the STEM workforce, women show not much interest as compared to men. They have a very low share in the computer and mathematical sciences (26%), and engineering (16%).
Post- COVID era
Even in normal times, women bear what sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls “the double burden.” While they work for a living, they do significant amount of unpaid household work. According to a survey made in 2022, as many as 58% of Indian women lost their employment mostly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Women were driven away from the corporate sector thanks to the rise in home duties. (Sethi 2022) This was also the time where people showed a greater dependence on technology than ever. Most jobs demanded workers to be tech-savvy. The gender gap in the economy also worsened because of the pandemic.
Rising domestic violence further accentuated the disparity. According to one source, 1 in 3 women worldwide experienced physical or sexual abuse at the hands of an intimate relationship. As a result, women were experiencing assault and looking for employment options. (UN Women: Gender equality matters in COVID -19 response)
During the worst phase of Covid and after, some people began to use social media to share their daily emotions, which allowed them to connect with others who share their perspectives. According to Statista portal, as of January 2022, Snapchat had more female users, while platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter had more male users than female. According to another source, men use LinkedIn more often as compared to women which are 54% and 44% respectively.
The active presence of women on the social media platforms have made them vulnerable to abuses and threats of various kinds.
Online gender-based violence (OGBV) is perpetrated by using technology or a digital interface -specifically the internet or smart devices. Cyber stalking, zoom bombing, identity theft, online threats, blackmailing and cyber flashing are familiar forms of online gender-based violence. According to the toolkit, 85% of women globally face online gender – based violence. 88% of women in Asia and the Pacific have experienced OGBV. (Toolkit: 30 for 2030 UN Women 2022)
A survey on online violence against women by the Amnesty International suggests that 70% of the women who experienced some forms of online harassment have altered how they use social media, and a third of them claim they no longer express their thoughts on certain topics.
Nordic countries score higher than others on gender equality parameters. While Sweden gets top score in perceptions of gender equality, Norway tops all other nations in terms of income equality. This has been possible as the Nordic nations have established a higher degree of political consensus around issues like social equality and social solidarity. They pay women in technology more than others. As the 2018 OECD report, “Is the last mile the longest? Economic gains from gender equality in Nordic countries” notes, it is this region’s past improvements in gender equality in employment that have “contributed to economic growth.” The Nordic nations’ global reputation notwithstanding, they continue to have gender gaps in technology. Anneli Häyren, a researcher at the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, points out that there exists an idea of being gender equal, but “we have a long way to go before we are gender equal.”
The Nordic Gender Effect at Work, a report from the Nordic Council of Ministers, an advisory group, further notes that there has been “a disturbing pattern” in businesses: “the higher up the hierarchy you look, the more men you notice.” This report raises serious concerns about the gender gap. It is thus apparent that even in societies where gender equality is the norm, women and other different gender groupings may not necessarily be equally represented in all sectors, specially technology.
Some academics contend that women are less likely to pursue degrees in STEM even in countries where there is already a culture of gender equality. This behavioural pattern involves teaching topics to girls when they are still very young. It has come to surprise many like University of Essex professor Gijsbert Stoet who says, “It is a paradox…. nobody would have expected this to be the reality of our time”.
Maddy Savage’s write-up for the BBCwebsite, “the paradox of working for the world’s most equal countries,” appears puzzling. Even in Denmark, the most inclusive country in the world, “mainly white males sit at the top of many of the best-known corporations.” One explanation is that women prefer to work in public sector which limits the pool available for top private sector roles.
Engineers and IT specialists are already in short supply in the Nordic labour market. According to a study, it will soon be necessary to solve the problem because new technology will be created practically entirely by men. In the Nordic labour market, women have established themselves in the service industry. According to a survey, women have benefited most from the region’s service industry, which accounts for 80% of all employment.
Women in the tech sector continue to face toxic and gendered environment. The so-called male technical prowess as an organising principle marks the work culture. As the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific points out, the existing under-representation of women in the technology industry is reinforcing social inequalities. “It is meaningless to talk about technological advancements if half of the population is being left behind.”
It is ironic that such gender inequalities should exist while the world embarks on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Another worrying trend is that the Covid -19 pandemic impacted men and women differently “exacerbating current asymmetries and risking a reversal of progress made towards closing the gender gap.” Gender stereotypes have led to a gendered division of labour in the tech industry.
In 2021, the percentage of women in CEO positions globally was a mere 5.5 % and in STEM fields, it was only around 3 %. A way forward would be women’s larger presence in the STEM careers. That will not only lower the untenable existing disparities, it will embolden other women to follow suit.
Nalini Malani, a contemporary Indian artist whose creative works reflect pressing feminist issues, says that though science and technology have given us so much allowing us to talk to each other over oceans, “the human psyche hasn’t kept abreast.” However, Malani is confident that “the future is female’ and the world needs the instinctual knowledge of the female side of our brains, “otherwise we are doomed.”
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has announced that from February 2023 teenagers will only receive ads based on their age and location. It has also announced that it will be “removing gender as a targeting option.” It is perhaps too late, too little but it is a welcome move. If the big tech companies don’t mend their ways, they will be blamed for what Churchill chastised the Balkans: “they produce more history than they can consume.” They will be judged by the new generation for showing their own shame.
*Jisha Jacob has done Masters in Political Science from University of Delhi
Big Data is watching you, and Big brother is controlling you
Authors: Md. Sohrab Hossen and Md. Obaidullah
Big brother is watching you” is a repeated phrase used throughout the whole novel 1984 by George Orwell to characterise the ruler of Oceania, a totalitarian society in which the governing party, Ingsoc, has complete control over the public “for its own sake.” Every inhabitant in the society Orwell depicts is always being watched by the government, mostly through telescreens. It was the imagination of Orwell of the future London of 1984, as the book was published in 1949.
What can we say now? Should we change the phrase, or is it still valid? I would say “No”! We would rather say, “Big Brother is controlling you”. How is it so? Moreover, even if it is, why should you care?
In recent years, with the tremendous advances in every field of science and technology, some issues of personal freedom, choice of expression etc., have emerged. Big data is likely watching you, or the algorithm knows your google search history. Not only modern technologies such as 5G, AI, machine learning, big data, IoT, blockchain, cloud computing, virtual reality, and cybersecurity have been transporting significant advances in the quality of life and experience of homo sapiens, but also these sophisticated techs have brought many ominous complications.
These technologies may pose a threat to liberal democracy, and the government can use technologies to control and monitor people all the time. Dictators may use IT to exercise their illegitimate power or to violate citizens’ rights.
While the traditional dictatorship system was characterised by a single leader or group of leaders who used military power to dominate mass people, there was no scope for political pluralism and freedom of voice; big data and the advancement of AI enable the processing of massive amounts of data, which might make a centralised system. Thus, the fascinating inventions of science, such as AI and robotics, might be used to help tyrants achieve their goals by just writing a line of code. Robots do not hesitate to carry out commands. If it were the robot’s action, the Military coup attempted in Turkey against the Erdoğan government on 15 July 2016 could be successful.
Furthermore, robust surveillance algorithms can be the worst thing ever to happen to humanity if used by an authoritarian ruler. For example, in Palestine, already today, Palestinians are likely to be monitored by Israeli microphones, cameras, drones, or spy software Pegasus anytime they make a phone call, post anything on Facebook, or travel between cities.
While the Palestinian Authority administers several cities and villages in the West Bank, Israel controls the skies, radios, and the Internet. As a result, it takes a relatively tiny number of Israeli troops to successfully oversee the West Bank’s 2.5 million Palestinians. The same thing is happening in Kashmir, where even during performing Friday prayers at the local mosque, multiple police surveillance drones are seen hovering above them. Furthermore, the children’s unsuccessful attempt to bring down the drones by hurling stones high into the air took place on 23 August 2019. Followingly, it would be an injustice if we did not mention the Chinese IT-backed authoritarianism over the Uyghurs.
The Chinese government uses technology to perfect its censorship mechanisms. An AI system can filter and prevent unfavourable content from the regime. During the Hong Kong protests, the Chinese regime tightened its “Great Firewall,” eliminating subversive content from mainland China’s Internet almost promptly. To prevent opposition members from communicating, organising, or publicising their messages, digital autocracies can limit all citizens’ access to the Internet (or significant portions of it). The government successfully turned off the Internet nationwide during widespread protests in Iran.
Besides, biotechnology advancement is also seen as anti-democratic. Can you imagine a situation when you had a minor operation and someone, maybe the authoritarian ruler, has placed a micro cheap inside you that directly connects your brain and controls your ideology? What if, in this way, you become an active player of a tyrant ruler from a threat to his regime?
Therefore, we have to be careful and aware of our data. We must first be conscious and then careful so that none becomes able to misuse our personal or financial data. We should not disseminate our very personal information on the Internet or social media, yet, night and day, that is what we, homo sapiens, are doing with great enthusiasm. So, halt; otherwise, you lose the war before even you meet your enemy.
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