Blade Runner, Minority Report, and even Black Mirror warned us of the looming possibility, and now that possibility is a reality. About 75 countries are currently using some kind of artificially intelligent surveillance technology to track their citizens. This alarming statistic almost sounds like a conspiracy theory on the surface – who would want to believe that the government wouldn’t have anything better to do?
Most countries claim that these technologies are used for crime prevention and criminal apprehension, but they have an impact on all of us. Law abiding, tax paying citizens are walking on the same streets where these technologies allegedly used to keep us safer are watching our every move.
The Tech Used to Track You
Surveillance methods used to be “dumb”. They didn’t learn and couldn’t recognize much other than basic details. This began with the advent of red light cameras that automatically photographed unsafe drivers, sending them tickets for violating the law. Many people didn’t like that, but the argument could be made that this technology could prevent fatal accidents and help to save thousands of lives.
Now, things are a little different. Most AI surveillance technology includes complex facial recognition systems and something ambiguously titled “smart policing.” Technically, “smart policing” can be anything. AI surveillance cameras can be placed on public property, government property, private property with owner consent, or private property pursuant to a warrant or judicial approval. Essentially, this technology can be used the same way “bugs” or tracking devices can be placed.
China’s Role in Surveillance
Many people would not be surprised to know that China is the giant behind nearly all AI surveillance technology. The country is well known for both tech and spying on its citizens, making it only logical that the two would intersect at some point. Chinese tech giant Huawei is responsible for the manufacture of most available AI surveillance devices, and they’ve been rushing to encourage governments to purchase their products.
Huawei pitches their surveillance tech as a convenient safety measure, even offering soft loans to other governments who may be interested in purchasing their wares. If the books are to be believed, 63 countries have purchased these devices directly from Huawei, some of which opting to sign onto China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The United States’ Role in Surveillance
The part played by the United States can hardly come close enough to touch China’s role, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. US based tech giants like IBM and Cisco have developed and released their versions of Huawei’s AI surveillance tools.
Although the US has made fewer sales to overseas governments, this does not mean they aren’t a formidable contender in the surveillance race. US manufactured surveillance devices are used in the United States, as well as Canada, Australia, Australia, Russia, and parts of the contents of South America and Africa.
Countries Being Surveilled
Currently, there does not exist a single continent where AI surveillance isn’t being utilized. Some European countries are slower adopters, and the correct infrastructure does not yet exist in many African countries for AI surveillance to be deployed. Whether these countries are utilizing American made devices, Chinese made devices, or a combination of the two is barely a subject worth debating. The problem is that it’s happening in the first place, and many citizens of these countries are powerless to stop the phenomenon.
In a recent interview, polarizing whistleblower Edward Snowden declared that advancing AI was the “greatest threat to the future”. These advancements certainly couldn’t be declared harmless, as they infringe on the privacy of every member of the public in the 75 affected countries.
“An AI-equipped surveillance camera would be not a mere recording device, but could be made into something closer to an automated police officer,” said Snowden of so-called “smart policing” technology. For now, unfortunately, our only option is to wait and see how this ethically ambiguous technology begins to pan out in our everyday lives.