Typically when people think of high-tech surveillance equipment, they think of CCTV cameras and unmanned drones.
Rarely does one think that the birds themselves are a means of surveillance unless they’re neck-deep in the conspiratorial swamp. However, this is the reality for people living in China, and potentially other western countries.
This Orwellian reality was recently revealed by South China Morning Post, and circulated by others such as CNET, and shows a future where the unassuming bird may be watching, but not for the stray breadcrumbs falling off an early-morning croissant.
China’s Surveillance State
China has recently begun a large-scale civilian rating program that is determined to reduce the number of petty crimes committed daily by the public, including jaywalking. However, the social rating that the Chinese government is giving citizens does not stop with crimes committed, but also includes the number of Chinese-made goods one purchases, and how many video games a person buys. Apparently, the social rating system has already stopped people from buying airline tickets and receiving loans. The Chinese government says they intend to assign a rating to all their citizens (approximately 1.4 billion people) by 2020, which will likely only possible through the utilization of project Dove, spearheaded by Song Bifeng, a professor at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi’an.
Project Dove is an unmanned drone program utilizing lightweight glider-style drones shaped and disguised as doves. The first place Project Dove was heavily implemented in was the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the northwestern part of China, and has supposedly been used to surveil the primarily-Muslim province.
However, the project is likely not going to stop at surveilling areas the Chinese government considers separatist hotbeds, but will most likely be integrated into its already impressive, and oppressive civilian rating system. The rating system utilizes an Artificial Intelligence (a Machine Learning algorithm) to learn from the videos, images, and information it collects on civilians, which means the system is enhancing the accuracy of its object identification constantly.
Future Ethics of Technology
In times like these, we must establish ethical principles to accommodate our rapid technological advances. Moore’s Law states that technology evolves on an exponential curve, so ethical principles must be proposed and implemented long before a new technology comes along. Otherwise, technology will always be far beyond the laws meant to protect society from levels of disruption we are unable to manage efficiently.