The Chinese regularly spy on their citizen’s thanks to 176 million video cameras scattered across the country. And it does not end there since the communist regime is rather ahead in facial recognition technologies and practices social credit. The United States ties the Asian superpower and Israel is in the contest with the stated aim of rising to the rank of a superpower. Putin fears technological monopolies and calls for greater collaboration between the hi-tech countries. Against the background of this contest, which recalls the old space competition between the US and the USSR, there is the conflict between those who worry about security and those who consider individual freedoms an indispensable value
The Chinese do not seem to have forgotten the ancient precepts of General Sun Tzu, who in his classic treatise The Art of War suggests spying on his enemy to gain some advantages on the battlefield.
These recommendations date back to the fifth century. BC and they were born in the Chinese society of the time, but they have value also today.
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With about 176 million surveillance cameras spread across the country, China spies on its citizens with some effectiveness, as the regime is ready to increase the number of cameras.
Let’s try to imagine what would happen if the diffusion of this mass surveillance system became even more widespread. The Chinese nation with 1.3 billion people, storing the data of all its citizens, would have at its disposal a disruptive information and manipulative potential. But what might look like the future, in China is already present: the mix of experimental technologies such as facial recognition, video surveillance systems and social credit is the recipe of the Chinese strategy for the race towards the leadership in the field of artificial intelligence. From Putin to Netanyahu, many leaders are convinced that, in order to establish itself as global superpowers in the imminent future, the dominance in the field of artificial intelligence is fundamental.
The Russian president has already stated this during a speech to some students not so long ago. According to Putin “whoever will invest in the best artificial intelligence system will dominate the world”. More: the Russian leader also compared these technologies to nuclear power and stressed the importance of sharing know-how in this sector to avoid the creation of dangerous monopolies.
Even the Israeli leader Netanyahu is convinced that Israel will become a superpower thanks to artificial intelligence. Tel Aviv is, in fact, the third incubator of start-ups that do research on artificial intelligence after the United States and China. Digital innovation and artificial intelligence will, therefore, be the battlefields of the near future, in which the West and the East will still compete for technological supremacy. Furthermore, two opposing factors will be important in this battlefield: the need for greater security and the right to individual freedom.
Beyond the necessary ethical-social reflections on the potential of artificial intelligence, we try to understand more in detail what it is. For example, in China through a social credit system Social Credit, the State assigns a rating to its citizens based on a scale of numerical values that are assigned according to the more or less virtuous behavior of the people. So if a citizen does a good deed (for example, returning a rediscovered wallet to the police forces or reporting any dangers or emergencies in their city, or foiling a crime), they will be given a high score. On the other hand, if a person does not take a social conduct considered to be commendable, he will be given a low score: this will happen if he has financial debts or if he makes irregularities or in the most serious cases of violence or crimes. The valuable intent of this social engineering experiment would seem to contrast terrorists and criminals and, therefore, the stimulus to virtuous behavior.
The distortion effects of this control are even more evident in facial recognition technology that the Chinese police started experimenting, adopting smart glasses that provide the personal data of the framing subjects. This is made possible by the fact that in a society like the Chinese one nobody or perhaps a few interests the protection of the private sphere. In a landscape where slowly man gives way to machines and where our behavior is governed by codes to encrypt and de-encrypt data to access our current account or simply to our e-mail, it is natural to reflect on the danger coming from algorithms that, categorizing human behavior, could report to a classification of potential dissidents or criminals based on Lombrosian memory thesis.
It is evident that the algorithms are not infallible, just as it is undeniable that artificial intelligence systems can simplify the lives of human beings in countless activities. The innovations of robotics, from the military to the medical and pharmaceutical fields to end up in the automotive sector (think of cars able to direct navigation avoiding obstacles without human intervention) are certainly to consider positive aspects and opportunities of artificial intelligence. But as in all things in society, even in the field of artificial intelligence, it is right to evaluate and prevent risks and avoid the deviations and limits linked to the improper use of these technologies. What is certain is that international geopolitics in the years to come will be based on how new digital applications and innovations will change our lifestyles, promoting new models of civil society and governance. In this challenge between the West and the Chinese counterpart, those who will be able to promote a winning model of society in which the balance between human capabilities and the potential of the machines will find the right balance will prevail.