The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

On a basic level, the advancements of technology have been great but there are some downsides.

“Big Brother is watching you” is used throughout George Orwell’s 1984 to characterize the ruler of Oceania, a totalitarian society in which the governing party, Ingsoc, has complete control over the public “for its own sake.”

Every inhabitant in the society Orwell depicts is being watched by the government, mostly through telescreens. It was the imagination of Orwell of a future London of 1984, as the book was published in 1949.

In light of the power of Big Tech and social media companies, should we change the phrase, or is it still valid? Probably not.

In recent years, with the tremendous advances in science and technology, issues of personal freedom have emerged. Big data is likely watching you, or the algorithm knows your Google search history. Modern technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, IoT, blockchain, cloud computing, and virtual reality have made significant advances in our quality of life, but these advancements have also brought about many ominous complications.

Autocratic regimes use technology to exercise their illegitimate power. Think China and facial recognition software.

The traditional dictatorship system has been characterized by a single leader or a group of leaders who use military power to dominate their fellow citizens. Now, however, artificial intelligence can be used by tyrants to stay in power.

Robust surveillance software may be the worst thing to happen to humanity in the past several decades.

Take the Palestinians for example. While the extremely corrupt Palestinian Authority administers several cities and villages in the West Bank, Israel controls the skies and the Internet. As a result, it takes very few resources to successfully oversee the West Bank’s 3 million residents.

The very same thing is happening in India-administered Kashmir, where even during Friday prayers at the local mosque, police surveillance drones are often seen hovering in the skies above. It would be an injustice if we didn’t mention Beijing’s use of surveillance software to monitor the Uyghurs.

The Chinese government uses technology to perfect its censorship mechanisms. Artificial intelligence can filter and prevent unfavorable content from appearing online. During the Hong Kong protests, Beijing tightened its Great Firewall to block content from appearing on computer screens in mainland China.

In Iran, the government has somewhat successfully turned off the Internet during times of unrest which is quite often.

While big tech and technological advancements have largely benefited society, there are many downsides that society must contend with.

MD Sohrab Hossen holds a BSS degree in Public Administration from the University of Barisal, Bangladesh, and is pursuing an MSS degree in Public Administration. Sohrab currently works as a Senior Research Assistant at BRAC University. He frequently writes about politics, governance, public policy, and sustainable development.

MD Obaidullah Siam holds a degree in Public Administration from the University of Barishal, Bangladesh. Currently, he is working as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Advanced Social Research, Dhaka. He regularly writes on the topics of Public Policy, Politics and Governance, Sustainable Development, and Climate Change.