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Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras (nytimes.com)
286 points by rmason 43 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 214 comments

I fully expect this to keep getting advanced further. There has been no protest whatsoever within China and even many people of Chinese origin living in US with US citizenship seem to think this is necessary and good for the people. I have been told that "outsiders" won't "understand" this. The bottom line is that if people are not rebelling against current measures of social credit, government only has incentive to keep going.

Sooner or later government would require things like TV sets with front camera. So when a person watches TV, camera watches that person. There have been huge progress made in emotional inference which can allow government to measure emotional responses to what person is viewing. Imagine there is a news of rebellian getting crushed and if you are consistently showing supportive emotions, you can get black listed for further investigation. Cities can get microphones at restaurants and other places to analyse what conversations are happening and find hot spots where "trouble makers" hang out. Previously we had only vast sensor networks. Now we can turn each sensor in to autonomous spy that works loyally without salaries and demands nothing but cheap electricity. Computers allows for scale when humans are being replaced. If you want million spies scattered all around, its possible fairly cheaply now. I would also expect lots of other countries to adopt variant of these tech, typically under the notion of improving safety and security for general public.

> Chinese origin living in US with US citizenship seem to think this is necessary and good for the people

Of course, they don't have to live with all that so they don't actually care. Next time you could ask them whether or not they're willing to renounce their U.S. citizenship and become Chinese citizen again so they can be monitored 24/7 for their own "insider" "good", then you will start to get true answers from them.

Back to the topic though, as a Chinese, I don't actually at the opposite of video surveillance in public, it made many places more safer and thus prosper.

However, surveillance cannot went too far, and certainly cannot be use to shame people. It's about respect of one's dignity, a bottom line that a government should never cross.

Plus, given the poor accuracy that system outputs, what if the system made a wrong detection and displayed information of an innocent? Chinese government probably don't care about it though.

It actually doesn't matter if they renounce their Chinese citizenship or not, the Chinese government has demonstrated that they consider anybody born in China to still be Chinese:


Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. - 1984 (George Orwell)

> I fully expect this to keep getting advanced further.

If they aren’t going to scale it back then I hope they go all the way with it.

I hope they try to automate it and feed everything about everyone to a centralized AI.

I hope they give it more and more control including the ability to direct military drones.

I hope it then turns on them.

Because the “smart stupid” people that implement well-intentioned malice like mass surveillance can’t usually see far ahead (see reports of data harvesting companies getting hacked.)

If this is the path we’re going to go down then might as well speed up evolution and usher in a new class of intelligent life on this planet.

Seems a bit harsh to wish the suffering that this will cause on literally billions of people to prove a point, when we can intervene now instead.

Intervene how?

The governments and corporations of the "Free World" will only pander to China, for “access to their market”, and individuals can't do much against a regime that would happily mow its own citizens down with tanks and then erase all memory of the event within a single generation. [0]

Maybe independent developers could put a notice against Chinese authoritarianism in their apps and services when they're accessed from a Chinese IP, to raise awareness among their public.

[0] http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Tiananmen+Square+1989

In your case, not egging it on would be a start even.

There is no bottom to this abyss. There is no limit to the number of victims, the upper ceiling for that is 100%, or a gazillion people. There is no limit to their innocence, and no limit to the cruelty inflicted on them. There is no time limit, either. You say this because for you as an individual, it's easier rationalizing that non-resistance will somehow lead to a good outcome. But if everybody did that, it will become a trillion times worse for everybody, "forever", than ANYTHING you could do today. Setting yourself on fire in protest would achieve more, and hurt you less, than the outcome of global, perfect totalitarianism -- which is an ever shrinking noose of sociopathy, not stability.

Until you understand this you will not understand that your personal feelings are of secondary concern when basically the world is at stake. Not the planetoid, human society, the space where human personalities would have developed.

"A boot stamping on a human face, forever." Don't whitewash that in your own mind.. it involves blood, it involves children screaming in terror for what is done to their parents, it involves sobbing elderly crushed underfoot, "and so on". If you were face to face with just ONE such an act, could you really just shrug it off? If you could not help, it would still sit with you, you know that. If you were lucky, you would seek for ways to turn it into a constructive force.

What we are lacking is a perspective for what is at stake, and for the vast opportunities we have. As long as we use our minds more to make excuses than develop principles and stand behind them, we have no say in what is possible. Start with thoughts, then words. Don't be another voice calling people to fall into a sleep that would end in a potentially never ending, ever worsening nightmare.

Writing all that here is all well and good but until developers and engineers STOP caving in and bending over backwards to accommodate and help China implement that authoritarian nightmare, it's all just words that will not change anything.

I never caved in, and encourage others to resist, what more are you asking? Anything you're actually giving yourself? You won't get to action without thought and words, and this textbox literally doesn't allow any other input than words, so what's the point of complaining about that?

The way we treat animals, and the fact that most animals are going extinct because of unrelated human activity I.e humans don’t want it, but it’s a side effect of global warming.

I’m a 100% sure, really advanced AI will be like that. Millions will suffer as a side effect for the gain of few.

I came here to say something similar, what we’ve done with factory farming is probably a glimpse into the future of what we plan on doing to each other. Why would it be any different ?

The funny thing is, their big data police system is called Skynet.

> Eyecool, he said, is also handing over two million facial images each day to a burgeoning big-data police system called Skynet.

Usually. Like democracy and freedom is superior, usually.

I’m pretty sure there have been protests about this in China. They might not have been heard very well, they were probably more likely to be in the form of online subversive statements, but please don’t think that all Chinese just accept this, many do not.

A large scale protest is unlikely, but you’d be surprised what some rebellious CAFA students can do via art.

Artivism is a fallacy of romance and a mark of decadence. I sympathize and appreciate the sentiment but we must let it die. Aesthetics compliment power but never redirect it. Let’s not fool ourselves.

Ah yes, the "art terrorist". Someone who has spent too much time sniffing paint cans and not enough time studying history.

Communication (and media) is important during a revolution (Examples: [1]). Or, more recently, look at the Arab spring where GSM and Bluetooth were important. The importance of radio and TV. Art is a form of communication, and with proper coverage the message is spread (ie. Bansky).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutions_of_1989

Parent here.

Art != Communication

And art is not a form of communication ether.

There is no shortage of literature on this topic but good place to start is Aristotle’s Poetics, essentially the first art theory ever written and it dives head first into the issue. In it, Aristotle laments on the corruption of communication at the hands of poetry.

> Art != Communication

I never asserted that.

> And art is not a form of communication ether.

That I did assert. Just because some books are written to argue something, doesn't make that truth. It took me 30 seconds to find 2 sources which support that art is a form of communication [1] [2]. So at the very least (if your sources argue your point, while your work is a response to another work) there does not seem to be consensus on that matter.

Now if you could refer to your source that could be great. Because [3] didn't explain your viewpoint at all.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication

[2] https://www.quora.com/Is-art-a-form-of-communication

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetics_(Aristotle)

I think my central mistake here has been using the word communication in place of literary expression, which carries with it a magnitude of efficiency and specificity that art elements cannot achieve. I did this in trying to work with the contextual uses of the terminology and I think it waters down my point. Sorry for the confusion.

The Wikipedia for Poetics does appear to lack an elaboration on Aristotle’s more critical positions on poetry. The exact nature of his criticisms are contested (but their existence is not) so maybe that is why. Check out thes Quora entries for some relevant discourse:


Bit of a stretch. You can argue that art is communication, but you can have communication without art and that's how I'd describe use of tech in the Arab Spring. I'm sure some people think Banksy is changing the world but we've had Brexit and Trump on his watch. Perhaps I'm being unduly harsh though, and we're just a few pretentious faux-warhol wall daubings from freedom.

There is no stretch whatsoever. It is difficult to assess when and how much art contributes because it is an indirect motivation. If an opinion is censored, the ability to spread it via tags (or pieces) tells the viewer: do not despair, you are not alone in your viewpoint.

Even if basic art theory is difficult, it is certainly not impossible, and it’s the best path to understanding your interest here.

“Viewpoints” are not very well “communicated” with art. Art correlates better with questions.

A helpful exercise would be to take a piece of art and break it into elements, then categorize those elements into Communication elements which would be ideas (sometimes subject and predicate but could be more basic literary expression too) and Art elements, being the poetics and aesthetics. It’s not an easy difference to describe in a comment but the Communication invokes ideas while the Art invokes emotion and other oddities. They are not always easy to decifer and articulate, but it’s very very fun to do if you like art in this way.

Once broken into these categories, you can now ask yourself what category is responsible for the revolution. It will be the communication category, sometimes with the support of the Art category.

Also, in critique, media only refers to medium plural, not content but strictly the matter which serves to represent the abstraction.

> you can now ask yourself what category is responsible for the revolution. It will be the communication category.

Only if you look at it from a short-term, narrow angle and only because communication is so advanced nowadays. If you look at the time when communication was more limited, you can find that there are several art movements who most certainly and quite obviously communicated their PoV, a zeitgeist, or flat out propaganda (a recent example is posters and paintings from WWII).

> “Viewpoints” are not very well “communicated” with art. Art correlates better with questions.

This is just pedantic. Those questions lead to viewpoints eventually. The author might or might not have intended those viewpoints but that is irrelevant.

In the face of pain, there are no heroes.

" The bottom line is that if people are not rebelling against current measures of social credit, government only has incentive to keep going."

One problem with this is that since NEWS and almost all media is State-owned in China, there might be protests and we might be unaware, also the protesters are straightaway sentenced plus now even their family members get "negative points" if I am not mistaken. There's a reason why Chinese people living outside also dont say negatively.

> TV sets with front camera


First you make it easier to control the masses

THEN you make any kind of rules you want

Prevent any rebellion with AI

Install implants to people to further cement your control later. You won’t even need to do facial recognition.

There are essentially two options here:

1) A ruling class enforcing totally arbitrary rules on a society of “pets”

2) An AI that eventually makes the ruling class completely irrelevant

My main concern is that this AI will not be sensitive to what humans need or want and will cause a lot of mismatch that they won’t be able to get out of anymore. Revolution won’t be an option. You’re just stuck in a jail being controlled by a dumb AI that just prevents any way out of the jail.

There may be no more progress or advancement as this AI would not have any abilities or interest in any of that. Just a zoo of humans essentially.

We are already turning the entire planet into farms and monocultures.

And a zoo for ourselves is next. No matter what you do someone will invent autonomous X that will then set the standard for all human behavior. It will be so efficient as to notice when you did a tiny thing wrong and the penalties would be extracted via perfectly mapped system of rewards. It will know anyone who tried to help you out as well.

It’s just too “sweet”.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength

Why are we acting like we don't have this in Great Britain or America?

You have to examine your own assumptions too -

1. You assume stopping "revolution" is the goal. It is not. All you have to do is look at what outcomes "revolutions" in an info saturated/low attention span/consumption culture based society have produced in the last 20 years.

2. In 2013 the Washington post did an estimate on how much was being spent on the surveillance society in the US. Everyone reacted in disbelief. Do you know by how much that budget has increased in the last 5 years? Are these people just brain-dead to be spending this kind of cash? Ofcourse not.

The US has made its share of mistakes over valuing freedom and squandering potential. China is overvaluing control and will make its share of mistakes too. We have to learn from both sets of mistakes to arrive at the right balance of where society should go in high noise info saturation environments. These are very new environment that society hasnt been in before and the right path ahead is not as obvious as people think.

Who watches the watchers? Government bureaucrats are human too, and why are they somehow superior to the rest of us in making decisions? If you have a bee-watcher, you must then have a bee-watcher-watcher, an so forth. If everyone makes their own decisions, we call that freedom, and it means we don't have some fallible bureaucrat deciding what is best for me (which I very much doubt they will do well).

> fallible bureaucrat deciding what is best for me

They aren't deciding what's best for you, they're deciding what's best for themselves.

I’m a PhD student focusing on large scale video analysis. It’s an unfortunate fact that a lot of the applied research in this space is motivated by surveillance, particularly in systems, eg what’s come out of Microsoft’s efforts here [0]. A colleague who attended CVPR said most of the industry booths were either surveillance or self driving cars.

I wish researchers would start to think more creatively about what we can do with large video datasets and tools like face recognition. The least we can do is try to use this technology for social good. For example, a USC/Google team used computer vision tools to identify gender bias in modern cinema [1] (for my own research, we’re doing a similar kind of analysis on TV news at 100x the scale).

[0] https://www.usenix.org/conference/nsdi17/technical-sessions/...

[1] https://www.google.com/about/main/gender-equality-films/

I rarely post, but I feel it necessary to chime in here.

I studied computational linguistics/natural language processing in grad school, out of an interest in accessibility issues (I had RSI) and related applications, and had naively neglected to look very hard about how I'd be likely use it in a career.

Other people in my cohort went to work for the CIA. I couldn't move to the bay area for... reasons, (this was pre-Google) and it seemed everyplace I could find anything wanted me to have a security clearance, with all the implications that has.

One could say I'm not mercenary enough, or that I took too many philosophy classes, or any number of other rationalizations, but one way or another, none of the jobs I've taken have had much need for what I studied.

I feel morally obligated to use what I know to improve the state of the world. This has, unfortunately, led to a lot of unemployment and serious depression.

Pseudonym for obvious reasons.

Join Kaggle. Plenty of linguistics work to be done there. After a few months you'll have some idea where you can apply this in a workplace that is in line with your morals.

At the very least it will keep you plenty busy and is fun.

> I feel morally obligated to use what I know to improve the state of the world. This has, unfortunately, led to a lot of unemployment and serious depression.

And as you would suspect, I'm a PhD grad working in the Bay area on mas surveillance AI. Half a million dollars a year.

I honestly don't know how to invest the money anymore. Index funds are boring at this point.

I'm a little confused by the beginning of your response, because you don't appear to be the person I replied to.

When you wrote this, what did you anticipate my reaction would be?


I must admit, I really don't know what it would be like to be working in the bay area on mass surveillance AI for half a million a year.

What point was there in posting this?

It seems like what he's suggesting is that selling out can be quite lucrative, and if you can deal with it, there are rewards to be had.

It doesn't matter how you invest. You can't protect yourself from karma with money.

It's disheartening that so many bright people work on research that will undoubtedly be abused by authoritarian governments and make the world a worse place for everyone. Ask a thousand people what video analysis can be used for and I bet the vast majority will say surveillance, and most would probably struggle to think about something else.

I wish researchers would start to ask themselves if what they're building can be abused by authoritarian governments, and if so, switch focus to a field of research that will make the world a better, rather than a worse, place to live in.

History will not look kindly on researchers who built the tools that enabled Xi the Pooh to achieve a dystopian surveillance state.

History? You mean Google?

Google will glorify it’s history in it’s middle schools just like America glorifies it’s history in it’s middle schools.

Considering the researchers are hired according to their sheltered backgrounds, holding them as indivuals accountable is futile.

If you care, vote accordingly, for politicians willing to refuse corporate donations.

If you care a lot, study revolutionary history, learn from it and organize. I’m just paraphrasing the only thing that seems to ever actually work.

Google wasn't responsible for any of the major breakthroughs in AI. The current AI boom is driven by deep learning[1], due to Alex Krizhevsky [2][3], who was then a Ph.D. student @ University of Toronto. Subsequently, several significant breakthroughs have been in Universities & outside Google or FAANGs (Siri, DeepMind were all questions)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_learning [2] https://beamandrew.github.io/deeplearning/2017/02/23/deep_le... [3] https://arxiv.org/abs/1803.01164

Google certainly played a major role, and it wasn't my intention to shelter companies/governments from blame. However, I certainly don't believe holding individuals accountable is futile. They need to consider if people can be suppressed, stripped of their rights, imprisoned, and murdered thanks to their research/code.

We should encourage developers to fight for privacy, and discourage them from engaging in research/writing code that can be used to commit evil acts.

And yes, I wholeheartedly agree that everyone should vote.

> I wish researchers would start to think more creatively about what we can do with large video datasets and tools like face recognition.

Some very smart people in China did exactly that, and arrived at a conclusion on what the local market for surveillance tech was lacking. Based on what the government will fund, they came up with an answer we seem to dislike.

I think he means, aside from dystopian population surveillance

yeah, like a thing that would remind me what peoples names are at parties.

probably not as much money in that though.

you can probably scrape your own Facebook friends' pictures & use the GCS or Azure free services

To be fair, the absolute last thing “modern cinema” needs is another formulaic measurement of demographically correlated screentime.

I am not personally against girls seeing depictions of other girls in movies (have you consulted with the anti-bodyshaming sect?) however this claim to “social good” is telling of a desperate effort to ignore actual social problems, none of which are so conveniently morally distinct from the economic disparities Google instigates and defends on a daily basis. Studies show little girls who are homeless have bigger problems.

Can't wait for algorithm homogenised movies!

I'd say you've seen a bunch of them, like everyone (sigh)

I think this is the internal slogan at Netflix :)

> identify gender bias in modern cinema

Looks like a way to sell more ads.

If you asked them, they would effusively tell you all this surveillance is being used for the social good, and probably even believe it. Not many people are brutally honest about how their work destroys the social fabric, and will always point to the benefit it provides. Pornographers think its a social good if we would just be a little less uptight about sexuality, and more porn access is a solution.

And the same people who try to work for good can find hey've just armed others for evil by giving them tools.

bachbach 43 days ago [flagged]

> The least we can do is try to use this technology for social good. For example, a USC/Google team used computer vision tools to identify gender bias in modern cinema

That sounds entirely worthless.

A social good involves helping somebody who needs aid.

This proposal merely fills a perceived need by political dogmatics. This is exactly a sociopolitical memory leak.

Please don't take HN threads into political flamewar.


I will not, but I also didn't begin by introducing the tinder - he did.

"USC/Google team used computer vision tools to identify gender bias in modern cinema" is waving a flag for a specific political belief that is not shared by most Westerners. Outside of the valley this is fringe stuff.

The appropriate equivalent to this would be a right winger expressing concern at the 'appropriateness' of race mixing on camera (the hidden belief) - perhaps pointing out bias in the form of the black woman/white man duo being rare (potential legitimate issue).

Suppose I applauded the use of computer vision to spot the frequency of black man/white woman pairs - I know you wouldn't consider that a neutral political perspective. tldr; Political neutrality is impossible when your attention is being dragged along by the current prevailing wisdom of the forum.

That's true, but part of the art of posting a good HN comment, or at least not posting a bad one, is to resist reacting to the most provocative thing in a comment (other than possibly to downvote or flag it) and instead react to the most interesting thing, or not react at all. That's not easy for most of us, including me.

You allow posts about mass surveillance technology yet it's supposed to remain apolitical.


From recent posts I gather that you don't want to use HN as intended, so I've banned this account. If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.


We were recently approached by a contractor who works behalf the Chinese gov. Basically, they wanted to purchase an insane number of commercial licenses of our embedded computer vision library[1] to implement face tracking (detection and recognition) for a custom OpenBSD fork running on a homegrown CPU architecture with 512MB of RAM. They didn't tell more about this hardware but impression is that is the new generation of street Cameras.

[1]: https://github.com/symisc/sod

I write real time, video based FR. The company I work has a strict policy that our sales, nor any partners even respond to Chinese company queries. The thing is, regardless of what they say, you'll never get paid AND they will reverse/rip-off your product.

Actually what I am surprised about is that they even approached you at all. Products manufactured for the domestic Chinese market generally don't need to give a shit about the legal aspects of the GPL. Until somebody successfully sues a Chinese company in a domestic court and wins damages (vanishingly unlikely), BSD, GPL, LGPL, Apache and other licensed open source things will continue to be incorporated into embedded products with no attribution or licensing agreement.

Yes, they really don't care about any open source license. In fact, they are notorious for GPL violation.

What they were looking for is the Real-time face detector implemented directly in the C code which is available only for the commercial version of the library (https://pixlab.io/downloads).

If I were an unethical Chinese company that really wanted your library, I'd create a US LLC, get some web designers to make a decent looking page that looks real enough, license the C code for some small bespoke project, and then disappear once I had the code/library.

Or just get an agent hired at your company. At lot of companies don't even limit source access to devs. If they got someone in QA or sales with network access they might have enough to grab your code.

> I'd create a US LLC, get some web designers to make a decent looking page that looks real enough, license the C code for some small bespoke project, and then disappear once I had the code/library

This may be an unreasonable risk-reward tradeoff. On the upside, you saved some money. On the downside, you risked (a) an international incident, (b) being cut off from future updates and (c) bringing unnecessary attention to your surveillance project. Much better tradecraft to try buying cleanly, thereby incentivizing everyone on both sides to co-operate, while keeping the shady tactics as a back-up plan.

If you were Chinese intelligence you'd surly reqruit a lot of people in us colleges and make sure they got hired into firms working on this stuff.

But, if you're a nation state, I'm sure just throwing money at the open market will work too. I'm sure that for every company that refuse defence contracts, there are a number that will hapilly build a pink fluffy-looking drone with built in facial recognition, 250 grams of explosives and a proximity fuse. Or, just be willing to sell surveillance tech to authorative governments.

These tracking systems are being combined with China's "social credit score". You think Transunion, Experian and Equifax are creepy and wrong? Spend ten minutes researching this:


Cameras with facial recognition are the tip of the iceberg. Through sufficiently strong government legal control, metadata such as mobile phone GPS and tower data can be correlated with facial recognition, bank debit card tracking, mobile payment app payments (which are HUGE in China), mandatory data reporting from Lyft/Uber type apps, toll road transponders on private cars, transit system stored value cards, and so forth. It's the aggregate of the whole which paints a picture of a person's entire lifestyle.


> Sounds like Google Facebook and Amazon

Except Google, Facebook, and Amazon don't control your right to travel, can't use violence against you, can't seize your assets, don't have armies, and aren't states.

(edit for missing word and apostrophe)

The OP knows that perfectly well, but he doesn't care. That's because he is a what-abouter who is trying to divert the conversation away from China.

Sound like when U.S. federal government owns Google, Facebook and Amazon combined.

In principle maybe. But the difference in degree is too large to allow such a comparison.

The Big Three credit bureaus started exactly as a social credit system. They'd send snoops to keep tabs on you and collect gossip from your friends.

To the best of my knowledge, not having been alive at the time, credit cards in the US and Canada mostly started as department store cards, from the days when companies like Sears, Montgomery Ward, etc were dominant. You couldn't even get a card unless you were a man, women could get a card under their husband's name. The system evolved out of single-store charge cards to general purpose cards.

The difference here is how it's used: If you have a "bad" social credit score in China you can't participate in some activities, right up to buying a domestic train or airline ticket. Possibly because your online writings have angered somebody working for their Internet Police. Or you have expressed an unpopular political opinion. Or you're a Uyghur.

If you have a "bad" US credit score you can't get an apartment, a job, a post-paid mobile plan, or any number of things nowadays that ask for your SSN. That's why identity theft can trash a person's life. Same with ad profiles built around your activities and movements. You think that's not being sold around commercially and the intelligence community hasn't obtained a copy? The scaffolding is all there.

Oh, it's absolutely there, and your life is definitely crippled with a bad credit score in the US. But that's strictly financial. You can have an amazing FICO score and spend 24 hours a day shitposting bernie sanders memes on message boards, and trolling the hell of of every staff member of every trump appointee (within legal limits of not threatening anybody). Try the equivalent in China.

It's a social credit score which gauges your compliance with societal and police-state defined norms.

I understand the impulse to distinguish the two but there simply isn't as much distinction as you perhaps would like to believe. An apartment or a job aren't strictly financial, and while credit bureaus construct your scores out of mainly financial transactions at the moment, they have started out as much more, as I've mentioned, and they've always been looking for other non-financial but correlating variables from your life activities; can't find the link right now, but there was recently an internal whitepaper on such an algorithm using non-financial data.

And again, the US government does care about dissent and goes to great lengths to build files on what it considers potentially subversive forces that are essentially political dissidents. The same controlling impulses are there. And since the scaffolding is all there, the only things safeguarding against a dystopia are, firstly, the clear-headed and astute attention against various soft forms of social control, secondly the maintenance of decentralization as a virtue, and lastly the robust exercise of checks and balances that are nominally provided institutionally, and not, as your answer seems to imply, the intricacies of how certain scores are constructed.

>and spend 24 hours a day shitposting bernie sanders memes on message boards, and trolling the hell of of every staff member of every trump appointee

and how relevant is that to the life of the average American citizen?

In a sense, the American apparatus is significantly more advanced. You don't even need a scary government and a social credit or a staunch party line. You simply dangle the carrot of free political speech around, let people run around with their signs on the street on occasion and they're perfectly content with their lot.

> But that's strictly financial.

Being homeless and jobless is a strictly financial problem?

The article says there are four times as many cameras in China than in the US. This means approximately the same number of cameras per citizen. Where is the NYT article about the US' dystopian dreams?

Where is the NYT article about the US' dystopian dreams?

The NYT writes plenty of articles about US surveillance gone-too-far. Even a naive query like this: https://www.nytimes.com/search?query=surveillance turns up plenty of exposure on the issue.

At least in the USA, citizens can openly criticize and publish their government's corruption and failings and concerns about the surveillance state and abuses of power. Americans can do this without fear of unjust incarceration or worse. And the USA maintains, with all its flaws, a democratic process which requires its politicians to answer to the public and risk not being (re)elected.

China doesn't have (and never really had?) these features. I think this is important. I write this as a non-American and one who often criticizes American policy.

>At least in the USA, citizens can openly criticize and publish their government's corruption and failings and concerns about the surveillance state and abuses of power. Americans can do this without fear of unjust incarceration or worse.

Snowden, Manning?

Snowden has certainly paid a price for his leaks. However, the Washington Post, New York Times, and others were not punished for re-publishing or discussing the content of these leaks. Historically, American papers have successfully defended their right to do so in court (the Pentagon Papers, Watergate). Leakers also do often maintain anonymity, obtain legal protection, or receive pardons when their leaks appear to serve the public interest (Daniel Ellsberg, Deep Throat, Manning). The situation in China for newspapers, journalists, and sources is far worse.

Manning, by the way, leaked an enormous unredacted cache of documents pertaining to active, ongoing military operations. This leak very likely resulted in the deaths of anti-Taliban and anti-Islamist informants and cooperators. Not all leaks are good at all times for all people, and some confidentiality rules exist for good reason.

> China doesn't have (and never really had?) these features

It used to, sort of. An immortal Party ruled over the state. Now it's devolved into a dictatorship, with the predictable pitfalls thereof.

> Now it's devolved into a dictatorship

It's never been otherwise. It's returned to a hard dictatorship from a soft dictatorship, and appears to be shifting from authoritarian to totalitarian. I'm not sure if Mao's rule is properly termed 'totalitarian'.

Is per capita the right way to rank this? A camera covers an area. The same picture can have 1 person it or 10000 people in it.

If you're the only person on a route, and I have one camera at a point on that route.. is that really the same as 100 people on a route, with 100 cameras along that same route? I would say not. In the 2nd instance, I've taken 100 pictures of you (and 99 other people), and know in more detail what you're doing.

US and China have a similar land area.. so we can assume in China you're caught on camera more frequently. I say assume, because we don't know how much area these cameras on covering--which is the more important stat. There's a big difference between a wide area camera, and a security camera outside an entrance pointed at the ground.

Correct. In the US, subway stations and buses, elevators, convenience stores etc. have video cameras. Electronic tolling gantries have been used to track vehicles. Red light cameras are everywhere. I haven't seen a backlash.

It's always interesting to see a reference to a different society as a pedagogical tool to learn about something you might not like. The key step though is to see your own life from an outside perspective, i.e. introspection, which is a very lacking skill indeed.

" elevators, convenience stores etc. Red light cameras are everywhere. I haven't seen a backlash."

Because those cameras are not used to track you, nor are you identified in those videos, nor is that data generally shared with anyone, and in most cases not the government.

In some areas, i.e. highways in LA, they do track license plates, and there is backlash and at least concern.

A 'timed security camera' is barely related to the idea of 'ubiquitous cameras that identify you and track your movements in a government DB and input into a social credit score' a system I might add citizens have no recourse to alter.

> Because those cameras are not used to track you, nor are you identified in those videos, nor is that data generally shared with anyone, and in most cases not the government.

Not yet.

>>> " elevators, convenience stores etc. Red light cameras are everywhere. I haven't seen a backlash."

>> Because those cameras are not used to track you, nor are you identified in those videos, nor is that data generally shared with anyone, and in most cases not the government.

> Not yet.

That an ominous-sounding, yet totally empty and meaningless response. Most of those cameras are privately owned and operated, and would be incredibly difficult integrate into a centralized state surveillance system. We're mostly talking systems you can buy yourself at Costco:


Furthermore, a "backlash" in the case of cameras in "elevators, convenience stores etc." would have to be a backlash against private photography.

Looks like I was optimistic:

A California mall operator is sharing license plate tracking data with ICE (techcrunch.com), https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17502925

The vast majority of cameras in the US aren't feeding centralized recording/storage/analysis/monitoring centers. The $90 1080p cameras in your local 7-11 are probably feeding a box with a few 3TB HDDs in it on a shelf in the back room. Quite the opposite in China.

I have attended meetings discussing IoT and at one, the observation was made many of the cameras are deployed by private individuals, not the state. Private individuals want to surveil their own surroundings.

I can't explain why, I don't live in China. But I do notice many buildings in the cities I visit have thick strong window bars even up above the 5th floor. Maybe there is a strong concern about local petty crime?

I certainly don't disagree there is state surveillance, but I think you should be wary of assuming all devices sold in China as IoT web connected cameras are state cameras.

I suppose that strong bar on 5th floor may be a means to keep people inside, not prevent invasion from outside.

That is, it might be a safety measure preventing falling from a window. E.g. windows in my apartment used to have state-mandated bars because my daughter was small, and had to be prevented from falling from a window.

I am amused that such statement is even possible, as if, someone just lost their common sense and start to reason China in a way that is exactly opposite of what they believed to be common sense.

To be fair, I spent first 24 years of my life in China. Your idea were never appeared in any form of discussion when I was there. I did not even fancied about such explanation.

All in all, I assume you want to have a reasonable discussion.

To your point, no, those bars are not for preventing staff falling.

I'm not assuming that - there are undoubtedly a huge number of privately owned cameras in China, as there are just about anywhere else in the world that people can afford to put 802.3af/PoE cameras stuck somewhere on a wall, fed from one cat5e cable, that cost $65 to $120 a piece. But as for cameras in major public locations with pedestrian traffic, I would bet that a much higher percentage of cameras in China are actually owned/controlled by a government entity than in the US.

Not being able to say in the US right now, I read that in the UK, private cameras are installed for profit and sell a feed to the police.

There are three levels of police in most jurisdictions worldwide: federal state and local. the US is no different, and putting devices on street poles typically demands compliance with planning law, and I suspect in any economy with cameras on light poles or sign posts by roads, its state actors.

The UK is either the most, or the second-most surveilled economy in the world. Not western world, worldwide. Cameras per head of population are increadibly high.

Your faith in 'old glory' is touching. I suspect, its misplaced.

> But I do notice many buildings in the cities I visit have thick strong window bars even up above the 5th floor.

Thieves will rappel down from the roof, so no floor is really safe without the bars.

I lack the criminal mind. I've been wondering about this, in HK, Beijing, Jakarta, KL, Sau Paulo, Buenos Aires, unable to work out what he threat risk was that high.

Now I know: the intersection of thief, and rock-climber.

Each camera in China is far more invasive due to how they're used. The government views cameras as the means for total population control. The goal is to process, cross-reference, and store surveillance across the entire country, to know and control every minute of people's lives. Compare to the US, where most cameras do not have facial recognition, are not interconnected, and do not store data long term.

Storing feeds of each camera is got to be expensive. I thought about recording my life. It would be too expensive for me to do surveillance on myself 24/7 and then do analysis on the feeds. And i make more than the median Chinese or american.

The government doesn't need to store the video, just the processed data, such as each person's history of locations, emotional states, interactions, and actions. Analysis is automated and thus scalable to the entire country. The underlying technology improves exponentially, so everyone underestimates the social impact that this will have in a decade.

So you agree storing 24/7 video on a billion people is not practical today. I don’t think processing is practical either. Processed output can be bigger than source depending on what you want to do and doesn’t remove the need to store original data to get value out of it always.

Technology has improved exponentially in the past. No guarantee it will continue. Ram prices are double from a year ago. Gpu prices are also not much better than 2 years ago.

Luckily we have improvements in m.2 ssds.

> Processed output can be bigger than source

I gave specific examples of processed outputs that are much smaller than source and are trivial to store today. No need to store the source video. For an example of what you can do with location history, see https://kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2013/06/09/using-metad...

My car has 3 cameras. Every phone I buy has at least 2 cameras.

None of them are part of a surveillance state. Are they part of these statistics?

I firmly believe (though in these matters it is hard to prove) that China and the US are in a technological AI war, with the first to largely automate their economy getting the biggest piece of the pie. One needs pervasive surveillance to accomplish economy automation.

I believe stories like these carry a certain propaganda element and are directed behind the scenes. What ultimately sticks is "Don't share your tech with the Chinese or they will use it to build 1984's Orwell. Go work for harmless Silicon Valley instead, so you can make people click on advertisements and get them addicted to your platform.".

If we had access to all the facts (we don't), we could honestly compare the US's surveillance apparatus to the Chinese. I believe that it was the US that started it with the early Echelon systems, forcing the Chinese to step up their game (every time a Chinese spy got caught with these systems, their picture of US capabilities got a bit more clear).

All modern ML is build on old military projects, adversarial images is researched due to the military wanting no mistakes, and all popular tools see investments by DARPA/IARPA. There is just no way to escape the military when working with advanced technology, except for putting on the blinders and pretend that your work/code/tutorials are not being consumed by (foreign) intelligence agencies.

The US government is legit afraid to lose to China, because China seems to care way less about the unfairness and biases presenting itself in IT systems, while the educated US citizens demand fair automated treatment and justification. In the eyes of progress, those are mere hindrances and roadblocks that need clearing first, giving China a head start. The only thing you can do to lessen this drawback, is to publish wide and far that China does not care about ethics in AI, turning it into a PR problem for them.

DeepMind winning at Go would be like Alibaba winning the Superbowl with robots. It was a huge wake up call, and I think it rattled some cages of foreign militaries.

I myself share a lot of information with the US, including KYC data. A lot of US companies try to track every move I make online. Even if I wanted to go 1 month without touching anything Akamai, I could not. Commercialized mass surveillance it not much better than state-led mass surveillance.

It would have been interesting to see how the US would be portrayed if it was not the top dog. Like the US media attacks and publicizes the poor rights of women in countries like Afghanistan as part of the war effort, I wonder what aspects of US culture a country like Afghanistan would attack/deem subhuman.

"We" (a general "we") never do anything wrong, it's always The Others.

People willingly & with excitement walk into Amazon Go stores. It's so creepy to me. You can turn your phone off and it still tracks you and everything you buy.

It’s not even close. A false equivalence. Assuming a camera represents a unit of surveillance, then that comparison might hold, but it’s what China actually does with that stuff that makes the difference.

There is always this knee-jerk “What about the US?” every time there is an article like this. If you haven’t lived in China and actually lived within their system, it’s easy to take for granted the freedom Americans have.

I taught in China and showed a YouTube (via VPN) of the Tiananmen Sqaure uprising to a classroom of high school senior journalism students. This was an international school and there wasn’t a single Chinese citizen in the room — a few days later I am called to the principal’s office because they had a visit from MSS about potential “subversive content” being presented in a classroom. This was about 6 years ago. Some of the teachers held clandestine bible study on weekends — the fact that it had to be clandestine should say something. Even the most radical Muslim in the US isn’t going to get arrested for having a religious meeting in his home. Of course if the conversation leads to a conspiracy to commit violence, then of course the authorities are going to be interested. Clandestine Christians in China have never been involved in the planning or execution of violent acts in China — yet they risk arrest by even having an unsanctioned get-together in their homes! In the US, tens of millions practice their religion without government molestation, even “scary” religions, yet in China, a person even talking with their next door neighbor about religion can get them on a list.

If a teacher in the US shows a video of the Kent State protests or plays disparaging videos about Ronald Reagan, the FBI doesn’t show up.

I can walk into any bus station in America and buy a bus ticket to anywhere without being denied because I may have had friends that were anti-capitalist. But in China, you can be denied the right to travel even within China if you are identified as a someone who has associated with anti-CCP elements. Look at Ai Wei Wei — an artist with 24/7 surveillance because he dared make a fuss about the Sichuan earthquake. He has been arrested, detained on multiple occasions, denied a passport and all sort of other indignities for simply making art. And yet in the US, we have stand up comedians that have built hugely successful careers criticizing and even humiliating the government, government officials and government policies. We have protest groups that burn effigies of presidents practically in front of the White House without being sent to a re-education camp, having their kids kicked out of school and/or banishment to the countryside. Try that in Beijing. See what happens when an Occupy protest happens on the streets of Shanghai.

Comparing China to the US is comparing a pigeon to a velociraptor when it comes to this stuff.

But it doesn't seem unreasonable to see present-day China as a potential future state of the USA|Western Europe and want to prevent that. (Not to mention wanting to think about how change might be effected in China. Hearing about what regular Mandarin citizens face is rough enough, and the situation for the Uyghurs is of course worse.)

I wouldn't take the parent's statement as one of moral equivalency. I see it as a reminder to notice similar trends within and not rely so much on exceptionalism or the existing milieu to carry you through without effort, forever. Even Chinese society was at one point perfectly free, even if you have to go back two thousand years.

I agree with most of your points, but:

> If a teacher in the US shows a video of the Kent State protests or plays disparaging videos about Ronald Reagan, the FBI doesn’t show up.

(...) when I got to the airport, the FBI, the CIA, the TSA; they came and intercepted me. All these guys in black suits. And they took me in a back room and started questioning me about the Stokley Carmichael speech that I was listening to. They probably, you know, have some sort of bug, or some sort of tap or something... But, umm... they were very concerned with me listening to this Stokley Carmichael speech from 1967. You know? Forty years ago. So, words that he said forty... now, we have gangsta rappers - we have rappers who talk about shooting other people all the time; killing... but the FBI's not looking for them. They're looking at me because I'm listening to this speech from forty years ago. And it shows you the power of those words, is that they resonate even to now. The FBI is still scared of this man. He doesn't have nearly the same influence over our community as he did then, but yet, they still stopped me at the airport for listening to his speech.


That's not to say it's the same - it's just a reminder that there's danger that surveillance can curb free speech - which curbs involvement - which in turns undermine the processes for democratic change.

> Clandestine Christians in China have never been involved in the planning or execution of violent acts in China

Firstly, the Christian element to the Taiping Rebellion[0] is one reason why the Chinese state is wary of Christianity outside the carefully controlled state form that is permitted. Religion can obviously contribute to social unrest.

Secondly, house churches in China tend to promote the vision of a coming Kingdom of God that will do away with all the rulers of the world. Anywhere else in the world, that is viewed as an entirely mainstream aspect of Christian doctrine. However, the Chinese Communist Party sees this as an attack on their own authority, and so they want Christians to remain within the state church that downplays this doctrine.

With regard to this second point, it is not just Christianity. The same treatment applies for any other sociopolitical movement in China that envisions a future for the country without a place for the established Communist Party in it. It doesn’t matter if Christians are not advocating violence. The mere fact that they even question the everlasting authority of China’s authorities is already offensive enough to get them condemned.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion

Hi there. I was born in China and have been in here for more than two decades and I'm pretty sure that the reason CCP consider Christian as detrimental is absolutely nothing with Taiping Rebellion.

To understand this, you have to learn that what CCP did from 1950 to 1990 is aiming on sandificate the whole society. They successfully destroyed all tradition local communities under the name of "reform for communism", by killing landlords in rural and taking away fortunes of rich men in cities. Just like what happened to Jews in 1930s, German. People are atomic and not self organized. They only focus on their own interest and no concept of being a member of a local group.

However, Christians are encouraged to build local communities, and holding regularly meetings in Church or someone's home. This is level 0 alert for CCP.

Disclaimer: I don’t consider myself prochinese government, if you think the below statements state otherwise, don’t call me a 50cents party. There are freedom in expressing ones thoughts on solid facts. It’s an insult to people’s rights by labeling them and automatically disregard their opinions.

I think our collective consciousness should be to show the world that a free and open nation is the best form of national structure.

It should not be that someone is doing something not free and open, and then all statements are pinned to say those are bad. That does not help the cause of convincing others to do the good.

I think the sin is on both sides:

The western nations seemingly enjoying freedom and openness should understand why there is a tendency to move to police state. Not to label everything as the givernment is run by evils communists, or some other easy reasoning that deliberately frame the problem outside of its inherent complexity.

The people inside, however, should do the same, understand why people outside are worried about the direction they are heading to.

I totally get the point that this article falls victim of the first sin, where they automatically label what China is doing as bad, and use a title that obviously state that mental judgement.

And what you are saying actually is more correct to identify that what happening in USA is not showing free and open nation is the best national political structure.

But in the end, this probably will be treated as another piece of nonsensical rambling, might even get downvoted.

I have lost faith in mankind’s long term viability on earth for quite some time. And that’s why I fully support Elon and Bezoss endeavor. Not that they are kind or trustworthy human being, but I agree with them, and I believe space is the only space to help humans not explode on this planet.

walrus01 43 days ago [flagged]

(removed at the request of a site admin?)

That crosses into personal attack and breaks the site guideline against insinuating astroturfing without evidence. If you can't post civilly and substantively, especially on divisive topics, we're going to ban you. Please don't do this again.


Hmm, exactly as I imagined... :(

>Where is the NYT article about the US' dystopian dreams?

Huh? The NYT has endless articles about the dystopian dreams of Trump and the Republican party. Or perhaps you an authoritarian who thinks those dreams are actually a utopia.

>Where is the NYT article about the US' dystopian dreams?

Well, you don't shit where you live, or where those that pay you live.

I guess I don't understand. Are you saying The New York Times would refuse to publish news or editorials criticizing an element of American culture or governance? Perhaps I am confused, but it seems like that's almost all they ever report.

>Perhaps I am confused, but it seems like that's almost all they ever report.

Only within the narrow confines of what the "national interests" (and the interests of the elites who own them), allow.

In other words, only when there are competing fractions with different viewpoints within those.

Which is hardly all the cases when something should be criticised.

India has almost the same population as China, and yet they don't choose to wield an authoritative system of population control and management with all the psychological techniques of manipulation and deception that China is.

So how is India doing - worse than China? Every country is different so can't really be compared like that, but I am fascinated to see whether Chinese people will come to rise up against such an abusive government and somehow play psychological hardball in the same way, or whether the oppression will just tire them out because ecosystems of old biology just can't compete with the new ecosystems of machines and AI that that government is increasingly using.

If I were writing a Sci-fi novel I'd have the AI (at the moment of singularity) take over the selfish pig government and become the new ruler over ALL the humans (making them equal but under it), in a delicious moment of irony.

You are confusing incompetence with benevolence. if India had money and AI PhDs anywhere even half way close to China, politicians there would have rushed to implement social credit system and it would have been called "Karma Card". It would have promise to improve security for women getting raped and people getting robed. I haven't studied Indian constitution myself but I have been told that its one of the shittiest constitution out there modeled to emulate English monarchy+parliamentary system and has zero protection on fundamental individual freedoms explicitly specified like it does in US constitution. There is nothing in India constitution that can prevent future Karma Card to get implemented in India. But don't feel bad... most countries are in same boat. Insistence for individual freedom is fairly unique to US and may be handful of other countries at lesser extent. This is because US being new country formed in a period, in circumstances and by group of people very heavily influenced by Bill by Rights and extreme distaste for monarchy. Many other former English colonies on the hand had developed huge appreciation for the same and ended up with systems that simply emulates English political system.

Look at the disaster of data breaches from the Aadhar card deployment as an example of what can go wrong. It's a heady mixture of localized corruption and incompetence.


Not a single proven data breach. All claims are based on downloaded aadhar data by third party. But they do need to step up their security game.

Democracy is not as efficient at getting things done as a well oiled top down organization. That's why the military and private companies aren't democracies.

> Democracy is not as efficient at getting things done as a well oiled top down organization. That's why the military and private companies aren't democracies.

Democratic governments and countries are far wealthier, more efficient, and less corrupt than non-democracies.

> military

I don't know anyone who knows anything about militaries who thinks they are efficient. The US Dept of Defense, for example, is hardly renowned for efficiency.

You omit the possibility of a third outcome, where the Chinese people do not rise up and the oppression does not tire them out.

> “The whole point is that people don’t know if they’re being monitored, and that uncertainty makes people more obedient,” said Mr. Chorzempa, the Peterson Institute fellow.

Straight from 1984.

One thing to start thinking about: Eye tracking is coming with AR. It enables foveated rendering - only the tiny region[1] your fovea is pointing at gets full resolution GPU effort. And AR is, eventually, becoming the new cell phone. But just as cell phones were "oh, btw, now everyone will be wearing a real-time location tracker - just like a handful of criminals and wild animals did previously", AR is "real-time what-are-you-glancing-at/thinking-about-second-by-second tracker". Integrating cell phone capabilities with societal culture, policy, and law, seems to have been largely reactive, and seems to have involved significant societal changes with limited collective reflection. Perhaps we can do better this time, with AR and eye tracking?

[1] https://www.shadertoy.com/view/4dsXzM

This Woman Threw Ink On A Photo Of China's President On A Livestream And Now She's Disappeared:


Reminds me of this Tweet by Donald Trump:

> Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail! [1]

Luckily the US has safeguards in place and people that dare say "no, you can not do this" to the commander in chief.

[1] https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/80356799303675494...

Hope she is alright now.

Oh yeah, I'm sure she's totally fine.

It should be pointed out that, with or without AI, the cultural impulses are the same. This is an issue of authoritarianism, not of AI. If it should be feared more universally then the fear should be the authoritarian streak within all of us.

You're absolutely correct. Things are just as bad in the US as China, and so we should ignore what is happening in China and instead turn all our attentions inward.

I can’t tell if this comment is sincere or sarcastic. Poe’s Law in full effect:


It's sarcastic.

Shan gao, huangdi yuan

The mountains are no longer high, nor the emperor far away. How long until your sesame credit is docked for walking into the wrong bookshop?


For those less comfortable with atonal pinyin.

I understand that most western countries have societal controls grown over the past centuries. The Chinese did not, and are catching up quickly by implementing similar controls as we have. But now, it's the digital age, and as such they are using any available technology to implement these societal controls. From this perspective, it's completely normal what the Chinese do. Seen from western eyes it does look a bit scary though. We must realize however that our society also has firm societal controls setup in many things we do.

China is now the dominant world player, this year it has surpassed the US on many areas (IT and military-industrial complex are the only US-dominant areas). Much more importantly, China is full-throttle developing it's trading strategy: The silk railway to Europe, trade dominance in Africa, footholds in Greece, Poland and other EU countries, large export deficit to the US. It won't be long before China will totally dominate trading in the world market. At that point, China can set the requirements. When that happens, traders are likely to need a WeChat account, too. No good rep? No trade.

"I understand that most western countries have societal controls grown over the past centuries. The Chinese did not"

What does that mean?

> I understand that most western countries have societal controls grown over the past centuries. The Chinese did not, and are catching up quickly by implementing similar controls as we have.

A sibling comments asks you what you mean here. I'd like to know, too. This kind of sentiment is depressingly familiar -- it seems to me that a lot of Chinese people like to vacillate between "China is the best", "China is just doing what other countries are doing", and "China is a developing country" as the situation requires, seemingly without being aware they are doing it at all.

> China is now the dominant world player

This is true, but not in the way I think you would like it to be. If strength is measured only in concrete production or something, then yes, China is by far the strongest. But that's not where real strength comes from. It comes from good ideas. China is not just behind on good ideas, it's actually shackled. Good ideas are dangerous to the CCP, so they are actively suppressed. The natural result is the epidemic of IP stealing that China engages in. You can cheat on your homework and get good grades on tests for a while, but life is not like a test in school. You cannot cheat on the test that nature gives you. To succeed in the test of life, you need innovation and critical thinking skills, and the CCP will not allow there to be an environment in China conducive to the development of critical thinking skills. Nor will it allow the kind of environment where people listen to their own inner sense of right and wrong. People in China are not generally trying to be righteous, they're just trying to become one of the VIPs with back door access to the power. People in China don't trust each other, and rightfully so. Think about the massive secret costs this is imposing on the entire country.

The CCP is a bit like cancer, and a bit like a parasite. It will continue to drain the vitality from China as long as it is in power. Obviously, it is trying to shut the door forever on the possibility that it will ever not be in power. And it is stoking nationalistic notions of superiority as needed to get the support of those it is vampiring.

So it is deeply sad to me to see someone celebrating the spread of the CCP cancer as if it is a happy development. The rest of the world is watching in horror as you guys happily help build your own prison. China really is #1 at something now, leading the way as a technological/surveillance dystopia, serving as a warning to the rest of the world why we have to prevent what is happening in China from happening anywhere else.

What happens when you request a loan? What happens when you apply for a job that involves kids, or requires trust? These are societal controls. China did not develop these the past centuries as much as the western world did, or they got destroyed in communist uprisings (e.g. Mao).

My parent comment is neutral, I'm only stating some facts and conclusions. I agree you need innovation, creativity and critical thinking to make a more diverse society. Success however is in the eye of the beholder; it's mostly a matter of what measure you use. Growth is not a panacea, while many western thinking seems it is. Neither is "amount of societal order", as China seems to think.

China has had broad surveillance for decades. but it was manual and village or employer based. Each worker had a dang'an, a paper-based personnel record which follows them from employer to employer, plus a similar record kept by local police.

As cities grew and employees become more mobile, keeping this current and useful started to break down. So the central authorities are modernizing their surveillance system.

Such control predates communism in China. Something like this was in place when China was mostly peasants, with local village officials keeping records. This goes back at least to the Qing Dynasty, around 1750. The concept that the government knows where everyone is and what they're doing goes way back in China.

China is to 1984 as USA is to Brave New World.

The technology isn't quite there, and Chinese law enforcement clearly exaggerates in order to maximize the current impact.

However, we are very close to the point where everything could be tracked, and recorded in a usable way - including the exact location of most citizens at all times, discrepancies in utility bills, shopping, internet activity (except possibly for those few with impeccable OpSec, and even that for only a bit longer), visited places, communication with new and old contacts, etc.

Some like to think semi-romantically that we are in/near the Cyberpunk future Sci-Fi promised. We are not - if a government truly goes all out (as the CCP has shown willingness to do), it will at some point simply be impossible to evade the law.

The cool greyhat who hides in the shadows, hacks government systems, and operates outside mainstream society is a pipe dream. When all is said and implemented escape could only come from above - another nation, intergovernmental organization or at minimum people high up in the system. Dissidents and revolutionaries would hardly be able to do much.

> Dissidents and revolutionaries would hardly be able to do much.

Hence the scary question: Once the technology is available (now) and complete surveillance is implemented (soon), is there a going back?

A friend of mine speculated that total surveillance (and thus control) of society will eventually make the world consistent in logical terms.

Which necessarily makes it incomplete following Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Here completeness refers to diversity: to maximize completeness is to encourage genetic (and memetic) variation. If society is consistent, such a proposition becomes absurd.

It's an interesting thought experiment, and I don't think the consistent state is reversible. Luckily it requires that all of the world (intelligentsia) agree on the same set of rules, so there's still time.

Taking this argument to the extreme: perhaps the reason we haven't met civilisations from other worlds is simply that they all made the same logical error once the tech was available.

"Taking this argument to the extreme: perhaps the reason we haven't met civilisations from other worlds is simply that they all made the same logical error once the tech was available."

In the book _A Deepness in the Sky_, it is remarked that civilizations/governments that attempt to implement "ubiquitous law enforcement" are making a terrible mistake that always ends very poorly. It is, in the book, a marker of a society that is about to die.

I recommend the book.

I don't think so. There's no going back to the world that existed before nuclear weapons. Similarly, AI and surveillance tool advances are too useful and efficient for maintaining order, and there won't be going back to the world before them. They fundamentally change the way that law enforcement interacts with citizens at a high level.

This is a good question. I think the answer is "yes" with proviso that it would most likely come from the top.

The CCP, is not exactly a monolith. It has factions, some get suppressed, some come to prominence. One that saw the negative aspects as being too negative would have to come to prominence to undo the overreach.

Isn't it far more likely, given all we know, that western governments and elites will follow lead?

They are already heavy surveillance, and have a long history of suppressing dissidents (from labor massacres to McCarthyism, and from the '68 Democratic Convention and Kent State, to black rights demonstrations, OWS, and such -- to name but a few).

If they have such tools at their hands, they'll use them.

It's not a love for freedom that doesn't let them, but that without full enforcement, they risk having such measure come against them. But once full enforcement is feasible...

I think you are wrong. It will be hard to roll back any system which abolishes violent crime. The people will accept it as long as it not abused that much.

This is a tricky line of thinking. Once surveillance is there you can always hide behind the “now we’re safer”, the issue is that you can always survey more and always claim that going back would be less safe and so on and so forth. A good example for this is airport security. As far as I’m aware it’s quite unclear how effective all the security apparatus is yet it piled up over the years since 9/11, full body scans are now the norm etc. The question left to ask is: when is it too much? How much intrusion are we ready to bear for how much marginal safety gains?

It ultimately doesn’t matter much what we’re willing to bear. Those in power do not easily surrender tools that can keep them there.

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."

Accuracy hasn't been a big deal for authoritarian governments and oppression anyway. I don't think they care. Outside of identifying risks associated with people who are close to people in power.... most authoritarian governments haven't seemed to worry about how much indiscriminate or inaccurate social punishment occurs, including China.

“The goal is algorithmic governance,” he added.

Given that the tech isn’t there, maybe the idea is just to say “the algorithm did it” on a national scale. The technology might not be worth much at doing more than providing much wanted pretext for arbitrary action.

Dissidents and revolutionaries would hardly be able to do much.

The main weapon of a dissident is public dissent. Mass surveillance doesn't directly prevent that.

the technology for face tracking/identification an action identification is definitely there?

I've wondered for a while if what you describe might be the next dark age. The last one was built on the use of religion in tandem with feudal power. The new dark age replaces religion with surveillance and scientific propaganda and feudalism with corporatism.

There has been a war-on-science going on for quite a while now, if there is a dark age coming I would fully expect that to be the real origin.

During the last dark age there was a war on religion, and precisely because control of religion was a major cornerstone of power. Being into Pagan, occult, non-mainstream Christian (e.g. Catharism, early Protestantism), or Judaism could get you jailed or killed in gruesome ways.

The "war on science" is not about stamping out science any more than the inquisition was about making people atheists. It's about eliminating lines of scientific inquiry that can be used to challenge power.

Perhaps this "war on science", however naive and inarticulate its proponents, is actually a war on the abuses of technology, such as the parent describes.

In which case, not only it's not the real origin of some upcoming dark age, but the last voice of freedom before it.

> Perhaps this "war on science", however naive and inarticulate its proponents, is actually a war on the abuses of technology, such as the parent describes.

No, it definitely isn't.

It's the willful and deceitful spreading of lies and portraying of scientists as bogeyman rather than the bringers of bad news. It's the purposeful act of dumbing down citizens and putting lies instead of facts in their heads to use 15 years down the line when those in school today become tomorrows voters.

That has absolutely nothing to do with abuses of technology (of which there are plenty, no argument there). The biggest abusers of tech tend to be those in power, closely followed by corporations, but the second is happy as long as they make bank, the first as long as they can use it to cement their position in power.

Look no further than what has happened at the EPA to get an idea of how incredible this whole story is.

There have been quite a few cases where "science" was used for "willful and deceitful spreading of lies".

See for example how now we find out that the whole "fats are bad for you, carbs are good" scientific "fact" was manufactured by the sugar industry.

This has infested the highest level of the scientific establishment (the american dietary recomandations), so you can't say that it was only the uninformed who were deceived.

yes, but that is most definitely NOT the point of the anti-science propaganda (moon landing is a hoax, chemtrails, flat earth, etc.++).

The point of that nonsense is to sow distrust in all institutions, especially science. Since the susceptible people have no real idea about how science works, it's just swapping out one belief structure or another (even tho it's promoted as 'think for yourself', that doesn't work if you don't have the tools -- your ignorance is just as good as any experts' knowledge).

Once the actual experts are distrusted, any belief can be swapped in for these people, who are now useful idiots (in the Lennin sense).

>yes, but that is most definitely NOT the point of the anti-science propaganda (moon landing is a hoax, chemtrails, flat earth, etc.++).

It's not its literal expression -- but it could very well be the point.

Those people don't opt for "moon landing is a hoax, chemtrails, flat earth" because of the inherent value in those propositions.

There's a sentimental reason behind that attachment, and it has more to do with a distrust in science and "all institutions" that stems from the damage they've seen them do, and the lies those can say that affect their daily life.

A subsequent attachment to e.g. "moon hoax" is an extreme way to express that. Like a kid who rebels against their parents and becomes e.g. a neo-nazi, or takes heroin, but their real problem is that their dad beats mom, or mom is a control freak, or whatever.

In other words, these people opt for things like the "moon hoax conspiracy" in the same way that a society under some big fear opts for movies that represent this fear metaphorically (e.g. the Godzilla movies in post-Hiroshima Japan, or the zombie movies in the US https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/10/31/13440402/... ).

But one has to see beyond the surface to actually understand these people (and of course some are just nuts).

Right, two sides of the same...

You're talking about the 'pull-side', the psych reasons (beyond mere ignorance) that pull people into this crap.

I'm talking about the reasons behind the 'push-side', the reasons all this crap is produced & promoted, which is to harness all those latent problems into a weaponized political mass that can do real damage.

I disagree about the direction of cause and effect here. The distrust comes first, then people go for nutty "alternative fact" stuff.

We have many reasons to distrust our institutions. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. For starters in my life span I've watched us be consciously lied into one major $1T+ war, a series of bank bailouts that enriched those responsible for a financial crisis at the expense of the general public, the largest financial fraudster in recent memory (Bernie Madoff) being short-listed for SEC director prior to his scam collapsing, and countless cases of "science for hire" (nutritional science is the worst) being used to sell stuff.

I feel like our authorities are harping on "fake news" and related things to evade their own responsibility for this mess.

Right, the mistrust creates the fertile soil on which these conspiracy theories can grow & spread. And I completely agree that we have massive legitimate cause for mistrust.

But they don't create & promote the theories, then weaponize the believers.

E.g., you and I don't watch the scams, then go out & produce videos about how the world is flat, jet condensation trail are chemical sprays to kill us all, etc., etc..

That comes from sources truing to manipulate & weaponize the ambient discontent.

>I disagree about the direction of cause and effect here. The distrust comes first, then people go for nutty "alternative fact" stuff.

Exactly what I tried to say above.

One can ask eg. why people trusted science (and revered scientists) more in 50s and 60s US.

It wasn't because they were less religious then, obviously.

It was because they didn't have many chances, decade after decade, to get cynical.

But the lie was overcome by the efforts of countless dietary researchers employed at major institutions, so it was not at all a conspiracy of all the scientists. That is quite the contrary of what the people who have declared war on science are claiming.

>But the lie was overcome by the efforts of countless dietary researchers employed at major institutions, so it was not at all a conspiracy of all the scientists.

It's never "a conspiracy of all the scientists". It doesn't take one either. You just need to spread enough of your own brand of "scientific results" to be able to sell to the public. It doesn't even have to be the most prestigious research -- you can pay to have the press releases appear in all kinds of magazines as "fact".

That's what the food industry has been done for ages with tons of research on the benefits of this or that ingredient, or promoting this or that kind of diet (depending on the manufacturer). It helps that those doing it are not just some regular food company making $100 million per year (and which doesn't have much clout), but huge conglomerates like Coca Cola, Nestle and co, that control a large part of the processed food market.

>That is quite the contrary of what the people who have declared war on science are claiming.

When people revolt against something, it's important to distinguish some general sentiment and its context, from what some of them might be literally saying.

A large mass movement can never articulate itself well -- they move in platitudes, often opt for the easiest slogans, and often have more people attached who are not the most representative, just the most vocal (and extreme).

Rosa Parks, for example, might have gone as "I should be able to sit in front of the bus", but the gesture actually meant "I want to be treated as equal, period".

>It's the willful and deceitful spreading of lies and portraying of scientists as bogeyman rather than the bringers of bad news.

Well, science is a noble aspiration and a great methodology.

A scientist, on the other hand, and "scientific results" in actual practice can be anything, from great, to non-reproducible crap (most papers), to trite BS (lots of papers), to lies and distortions to sell some product, corporate interests, or ideology (a heck of a lot of them).

Just because someone is called a scientist doesn't mean they do science.

Increasingly they work more as "promotional" and/or "support" departments of corporate and government interests.

And the public might be too ignorant (lack of knowledge and terminology) to articulate this properly, but is not so stupid (lack of IQ and/or experience) to be able to tell something fishy is going on.

Not to mention that usually mere technology is conflated with science, and just because we can technically produce e.g. thalidomide, it's assumed to be good as well (because it's a "scientific result"), and it's proponents bad (luddites). Used thalidomide so it's a clear cut example -- one can find many others.

>The biggest abusers of tech tend to be those in power, closely followed by corporations, but the second is happy as long as they make bank, the first as long as they can use it to cement their position in power.

Agree. And their biggest enablers to abuse tech, and their biggest apologists, are scientists, or increasingly, technologists.

After all, they're their employees. It's not like in the 19th century in the UK for example, were scientists could be lords and independently wealthy, and could call a spade a spade. Or like up until the 70s, when it was easier to be a vocal critic and still find a job elsewhere. With the tight grip on tenured positions, and the decline of the scientific job as a status, they are more dependent than ever.

Heh, you suddenly made me realize that that old school publishing house may have a role after all: At least now there is some way to distinguish corporate crap from actual science.

Not that all of it is great but at least there is a bar to be crossed. There are some examples of outright fabrication in scientific publishing but the bulk of it seems to be in earnest.

>Perhaps this "war on science", however naive and inarticulate its proponents, is actually a war on the abuses of technology, such as the parent describes.

No, like in the case of global climate change, the war on science is to enable the abuses of technology, not eliminate it. And that is true for many other cases.

In other cases like evolution and the age of the universe, the motivation is religious, not the abuses of technology. I have read recently that this true for many of the flat-earthers.

I am rather puzzled that you seem to be unaware of the various motivations involved.

>I am rather puzzled that you seem to be unaware of the various motivations involved.

I'm rather puzzled that you seem to stop at surface level motivations.

This. Science is about sharing knowledge. Any such “dark age” is the opposite of that and thus antithetical to scientific progress.

How hard is it to destroy things? If people wanted to they could start breaking shit and then there would be no cameras watching them.

Can you manufacture devices faster than people can break them? I think some sort of mass uprising could still work.

Can you break a camera without being identified in a completely surveilled area?

This goes to a core why many believe a totalitarian surveillance system might not have a way back out. Once the first guy or girl breaks the first camera the cops will know immediately and they will end up in jail before they can say "revolt".

Former revolts and revolutions always needed the incremental creation of critical mass. Without the possibility of prior planing and coordination all that leaves you with is being a hopeless martyr who will be locked away in a heartbeat with the faint hope of at least motivating a few others to resist.

This article examines A.I., policing and authoritarianism from a Western perspective, rather than the local perspective. I think it would have served the article's balance to get a more local and relativist view on the intersectionality of the things they are looking to be objective about.

That said, if the technology delivers on the potential the gov't claims, I think they will have to relax the laws or make it flexible enough such that people and the government reach an understanding in expectations while affording people the maximum liberty while providing a base-line of expected behavior.

Obviously, without oversight from the people, this has the potential to turn into a monster.

China is a huge, huge country, historically it's been difficult for the central government to exercise its control all over its territory. This would be the realization of that historical desire.

What “local” is going to chat with The NY Times about this. More importantly, what local would dare question it? That’s the difference between the US and China right there.

walrus01 43 days ago [flagged]

That's not local perspective. Please don't take these threads further into political or national flamewar. They're flammable enough already.

Posting concrete examples of how police state mass-surveillance technologies can aid and abet in the suppression of disliked minorities is defined as a flamewar? Yeah...

Yes, because you weren't engaging in conversation, just posting ammunition. Your other comments in the thread suggest that you have an agenda about this. That's not a good basis for posting HN comments, regardless of the agenda or whether you're right or wrong; and when the topic is divisive it basically always leads to flamewars.

Is your idea of local perspective a watered down and government-controlled local news source spouting government viewpoints? Really, dang, I’m curious what you would consider a valid local perspective that is something other than support of the regime. There were tons of local perspectives in links of the other comment.

And why is one viewpoint unworthy of HN but not the other?

Not speaking for dang, but for me local perspective means a Chinese perspective from Chinese people, be they actually living in Country or ex-pats living abroad consisting of regular folk [city and country] along with students and local experts. Chinese people are not "afraid" to speak their mind when they have something to say, so long as they trust you to not out them [when speaking on sensitive subjects].

Of course not. mc32 expressed an interest in how Chinese people see this issue ("non-Western", clear in context). That's an interesting question. But walrus01 responded with Western media reports on highly politicized subjects. That wasn't a serious response, just the usual political/national battle, which we're trying to avoid here.

HN threads are supposed to be for thoughtful conversation, in which people respond meaningfully to each other's questions and try to figure out the truth together. If you think in terms of intellectual curiosity (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html), that isn't hard to understand.

Xinjiang is like Afghanistan, its not a police state, its a war zone.

You should not only pity the minority, the Han people are equally forced there because the government needs maintain control.

These articles, do care about the people, but not all of them.

This comment is not only hilariously unfounded, but also straight up wrong. Where is the Helmand province equivalent in Xinjiang?

It's a war zone in the sense of the forces want to turn it into.

Of course, the strong arms of Chinese government stops that from happening.

walrus01 43 days ago [flagged]

I've spent literally years living and working in Afghanistan, so I take your comment about as seriously as something I'd see on Infowars.

China is a huge, huge country, historically it's been difficult for the central government to exercise its control all over its territory. This would be the realization of that historical desire.

That sounds like a better argument for China breaking up than it does using force and dystopian surveillance to maintain a lock on power.

I don’t you’d see more than base level noise support to break up China, internally. Probably would not even register 1%. It’s an uncontested tenet for Chinese that they are the descendants and heirs of an uninterrupted, uncorrupted people stretching five thousand years and counting.

Classic... they called the software skynet! :P At least they have a sense of humour.

democracies are sluggish, progress slowly, and also cause racial division sometimes. But I'd still never wish any country to devolve into any other form of governance

Wear a mask


It doesn't say so on the English wikipedia page, but in some areas known for violence and particularly extreme Chinese crackdowns, wearing a mask in public is banned.

"China is reversing the commonly held vision of technology as a great democratizer"

I think it's near impossible to broach the topic without bringing in worldview & speculation, but..

Lets take a look at why that notion of democratizing technology existed in the first place. I think there are a few dispirate ones.

First, there is the adoption curve many recent "technologies." Penicilin & uimunization, paved roads & electricity... These technologies took generations before they reached 50% of the population, and are only now approaching the "last mile" phase.

Mobile phones, celular internet, facebook, google, digital money... these reached third world farmers fast, anywehre from a a couple of decades to a couple of years. That is democracratic in the "everyone gets it." sense

Another definiton is a sort of capitalist/liberal one. The internet was a democratic latform in terms of economic opportunity. Internet age companies were mostly newly founded ones. The wins did not go to pre-existing companies, leveraging their preexisting size and power. Rather, tiny newcomers managed to compete and win against large established companies. The proverbial "guys in the basement" taking on billion $ companies. This wil seem democratic, to those with a certain worldview.

It's hard to say this has stopped, but it is certainly different. The new generation of internet companeis are the current oligopolies, even oligarchies. Cellular internet is reaching people without mains electricity, but often the internet consists of just FB, who have basically purchased an exclusive monopoly.

Last (and probably most important) is freedom of information, citizen journalisand other related aspects of democracy that communication technology advanced. If you want to criticise a regime, no one can stop you.

These democratizing features land squarely in the middle of the liberal worldview, and excite all sorts of grand expectations. Freedom of thought, speech, press, conscience, association.... The rights of man and the basis of a free society & liberal democracy, free market or otherwise.

I think liberals (including me) believed that a free infromation would be a blow to despotry. This, I think, has proved false. These freedoms (in practice, but not theory) don't seem to lead to anything in particular.

Disilussionment is ongoing. We have twitter mobs, clickbait, fake news, paid trolls and info bubbles... Facebook controls the media people get, and the data that makes this useful. Centralisation is worse than before. Exclusive access to data is becoming a force to be reckoned with, and all the power naturally flows to the largest companies.

Despots needed to adapt, but those who do end up even more powerful than before. Take Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia as examples. It's true that they can't control information anymore. If you want to read an article painting the leader in bad light, you can. But, they can influence what most people hear. They can censor sites, and 90% of people won't bother finding workarounds. They can troll opposition views, and make any issue seem like an open debate.

The game is no longer about locking out competing politics. It's about winning public opinion in an uneven debate, with tools at your disposal that the opposition does not have. Instead of a "tank vs knife" dynamic with their opposition, they've had to settle on a "gun vs knife" dynamic. It keeps them sharp, but doesn't really threaten regime stability.

My conclusion is the old banal cliche. Regardless of the starting point, technology is what people do with it. A technology is neither despotic or democratic.

According to the article, violent criminals, such as a "fugitive murder suspect", have been apprehended using facial recognition technology. It is not clearly dystopian to me to have a society where criminals are always caught -- it depends on whether the definition of "criminal" is good or if it just means someone who criticizes the government.

Why dystopian? Seems subjective.

A system in which some authoritarian power literally watches your every move and subjects you to analysis, legal implications, social standing, and wherein citizens have no power or recourse to alter that system ... is fairly objectively 'dystopian'.

If this were strictly limited to 'matching terrorists and murderers faces out in public' - then I think some kind of argument could be made. But this goes way, way beyond that.

You know what would be better? A system where people are raised to be conscientious, responsible and fair - so you don't need to monitor them all day and night. It works pretty well in many places.

Even if you put all the privacy and social implications aside - I really don't think anyone in my neighbourhood would think that all of this would actually create a more peaceful neighbourhood or create better social outcomes at all. So it's like 'all the dystopian stuff' without really a lot of upside.

Everybody is somebody's terrorist. The US doesn't have a great track record on this. I mean MLK was tracked by the FBI.

"Everybody is somebody's terrorist."

Not at all.

are you insane, this is a complete suppression of individual freedom of thought and association, not even talking about privacy

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