July 30, 2020

WELL, YES: China Is What Orwell Feared. “Xi Jinping is using artificial intelligence to enhance his government’s totalitarian control — and he’s exporting this technology to regimes around the globe.”

Xi’s pronouncements on AI have a sinister edge. Artificial intelligence has applications in nearly every human domain, from the instant translation of spoken language to early viral-outbreak detection. But Xi also wants to use AI’s awesome analytical powers to push China to the cutting edge of surveillance. He wants to build an all-seeing digital system of social control, patrolled by precog algorithms that identify potential dissenters in real time.

China’s government has a history of using major historical events to introduce and embed surveillance measures. In the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Chinese security services achieved a new level of control over the country’s internet. During China’s coronavirus outbreak, Xi’s government leaned hard on private companies in possession of sensitive personal data. Any emergency data-sharing arrangements made behind closed doors during the pandemic could become permanent.

Related: China’s Plans to Win Control of the Global Order.

Xi Jinping endorsed this explanation for the Soviet collapse in a 2013 address to party cadres. “Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate?” he asked his audience. “An important reason is that in the ideological domain, competition is fierce!” The party leadership is determined to avoid the Soviet mistake. A leaked internal party directive from 2013 describes “the very real threat of Western anti-China forces and their attempt at carrying out westernization” within China. The directive describes the party as being in the midst of an “intense, ideological struggle” for survival. According to the directive, the ideas that threaten China with “major disorder” include concepts such as “separation of powers,” “independent judiciaries,” “universal human rights,” “Western freedom,” “civil society,” “economic liberalism,” “total privatization,” “freedom of the press,” and “free flow of information on the internet.” To allow the Chinese people to contemplate these concepts would “dismantle [our] party’s social foundation” and jeopardize the party’s aim to build a modern, socialist future.

Two excellent pieces, both worth your time.

Hat tip for that second item to Stratechery’s recent piece, The TikTok War, where Ben Thompson reminds us: “China is not simply resisting Western ideals of freedom, but seeking to impose their own.”

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