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War is Peace

Helmut Sorge | Posted : November 23, 2018


The term “Orwellian,” the descriptive of totalitarianism or authoritarian repression has entered the language of literature with many of its neologisms, including “Big Brother,” “thought police,” double think,” “un person,” “face crime,” and “thought crime.” George Orwell, the British author, had a sinister, utopian vision of the world, himself obviously disappointed by Marxist theories, communist dictators, or his experience during the Spanish civil war (where he was wounded), fascinated, almost obsessed, by the abandonment of the poor masses, which Orwell described and deplored in his writings.

His bestseller 1984, published in 1945, was his vision of the world to come, governing through repression, censorship, lies, fear, torture, indoctrination, imprisonment, and slavery. Total control. “Big Brother is watching you.” Not a warning, but a threat towards oblivion, a menace for each of the 300 million citizens of “Oceania,” a country, without capital nor history, without dreams nor joy, unless you consider torture and public hanging entertainment. They had to accept double thinking slogans of their oppressors as philosophy—“war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” You do not find the answer? Don’t stress your brain, tire your mind. Give up thinking. Let it be. Obey your masters, who do not want you to think at all. Obedience avoids mistakes. The torturers will prove to you that you have 12 fingers. And war is peace. No, eight fingers. Ignorance is strength, you see.

London was a province and 87 percent of the population were “proles,” considered dumb and therefore ignored, “natural inferiors,” as Orwell wrote, who must be kept in subjection like animals, by the application of a few simple rules. They would not revolt, the party was certain. Their slogan left no doubt: “Proles and animals are free.” The party members of this hellish, English speaking, nation, experiencing “Ingsoc,” or English socialism. The citizens embalmed in fear had to live, and did exist, Orwell imagined, in the assumption that any sound you made, any word uttered, even while you were talking in your sleep, was overheard by hidden microphones. Except in darkness, every movement was observed through tele screens, which received and transmitted simultaneously. As long as the people remained in the field of vision, which a metal plaque commanded, they could be seen as well as heard. The listening devices could pick up even a heartbeat. All private or public houses were bugged, cameras installed, allowing Big Brother to observe any deviation from the strict rules. It was conceivable they watched everybody all the time.


The mustachioed face of Big Brother is gazing down from oversized posters onto the obedient, oppressed, joyless masses, whose thoughts are controlled by the thought police. Love, feelings, and suspicious facial expressions, were all a crime. Big Brother was never seen, just heard. Big Brother is the guise in which the party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. Everything in this place, imagined Orwell, faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, and lies became truth. Whatever the party holds to be the truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the party, which is controlled by six million members —the inner circle of power. Their official language is “newspeak.” For these citizens, life is as happy as it was for Russians under Stalin. A party member had no spare time. Except in bed. Alone and without sexual desire. Bedding with a prostitute could end in five years of hard labor. “OWNLIFE,” meaning individualism or eccentricity, was a criminal act. A sexual encounter, successfully consumed, was considered rebellion, desire treated as thought crime, punished at the torture chambers, known and feared as “room 101.” Physical rebellion or any preliminary move towards rebellion was not possible. Control controlled control and many citizens disappeared without trace. No records ever found, no tears allowed. Gone with the wind. Or, as Orwell imagined, vaporized.


A cruel, inhumane, world, which Orwell envisioned. His classic work published 73 years ago, seemed more a Hollywood script for a dark Science Fiction thriller than a path towards reality. Our world controlled by cameras, artificial intelligence, hidden microphones, voice and facial recognition, sophisticated bugging systems, reaching earth by satellites, listening in to highly secretive conversations of industrial leaders and political power prove that the past has caught up with the modern world. Fake news spreads through the internet, censorship imposed on TV channels, cyberspace controlled by algorithms. Cyber war, the sophisticated theft of intellectual property, and digital surveillance.

Such a scenario seemed impossible just decades ago, but Orwell’s sinister utopian world is seeping into our lives, invisible, but present—Big Brother is watching us, ever more and hardly controlled. Fiction is blending into reality and emergency exits are not available. Experts predict Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) attacks, as British expert Christian Reilly, Vice President and CTO of Citrix, responsible for technology strategy and platform engineering at workspace services explained: “The emergence of hybrid warfare, consisting of thousands of isolated incidents and engagements, most of them without human supervision at all.” Smart phishing offenses, self-sustained hive nets or swarmbots that are capable of performing attacks without the Kremlin’s or Pentagon’s supervision. We could even see the arrival of so-called “polymorphic malware,” that will continually evolve during the course of an attack.

Words, systems of destruction or repression, which are not based on fiction, but that are leading us into the future – self sustained swarmbots, polymorphic malware, certainly unknown to most of the billions of people who allow Facebook to peddle their private information worldwide. They are not aware that their computer is not a computer anymore, but a digital tank or a digital stealth bomber, at least part of the next cyber world war. We do not know how to defend ourselves yet, but that we are “at the end of the beginning of an industrial revolution,” as Margrethe Vestager, EU competition commissioner stated, “Tech is changing our entire society.” Nothing is untouchable anymore-history will turn into a mental memorial museum, books will have — for generations to come —the taste of cod liver oil, workers will compete with robots, which do not call in sick or go on strike. Unions will disappear. Our democratic principles will weaken, opening the management and repression by society to dictators. Parliament reduced to absurd theatre, politicians [are now] puppets on a string, with which they may be hanged at the end by powers without moral or control.

A report published in 2015 by the Nomura Research Institute, a Japanese think tank, says half of Japans workers could be replaced by robots within 20 years. In addition, in Dubai, the “Roads and Transport Authority” is testing an A.I. device that monitors drivers for any indicators of fatigue or illness. One day, thanks to Uber, they may be out of a job, as all these millions of truckers around the world. Humans have been reduced to welfare or provoked to rebel. Infantry soldiers may be replaced by robots, which would make it easier and less emotional for the commanding officers to bury their fallen iron heros. No more field hospitals, just a repair shop. And some electronic self-help kits. 

“Contemplating where we have come from digitally and where we are heading,” wrote Cideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs recently in one of his editorials, “it’s hard not to feel increasingly wistful and nostalgic.” Who knows… who is bugging whom? This is not the world of 007 anymore, James Bond against his genial enemy by the name of Goldfinger, spies celebrating with Gin Tonics or a scotch after a polished kill. This is the National Security Agency listening in to Angela Merkel’s private telephone, this is the CIA and waterboarding, or the dismembering of real or imagined government critics, just as it happened to Mr. Kashoggi, who dared to criticize a pompous Saudi Prince and was, probably, eliminated with a chain saw. Government sponsored hackers of the enemy are breaking into highly secret weapon systems - today a nuclear submarine of the Pentagon, tomorrow a spy satellite of the NSA. Can the President of the United States be absolutely certain whether his private cell phone is listened into by Moscow’ s specialists, as their US colleagues do suspect ? Would we be surprised reading a headline like “The Queen was hacked?”

Major technology powers in California’s Silicon Valley or China are investing billions in research projects, which will lead to even more sophisticated spy and control systems, reducing the freedom of its citizens and their democracy by digital manipulation. Votes are eliminated by cyber specialists in Moscow or Beijing, and banks are plundered by North Koreans through the internet. Paul Mozur, in his article "China uses AI, shame and lots of cameras to control its people," reported about a startup company, called Yitu, based in Shanghai. “The halls of its offices are dotted with cameras, looking for faces. From desk to break room to exit, employees paths are traced on a television screen with blue dotted lines. The monitors show their comings and goings all day, every day,” the world as Orwell saw it. Yitu took first place in a 2017 contest for facial recognition algorithms held, of all places, by the United States government’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A number of other Chinese companies scored well. At an artificial intelligence summit held last year, Eric Schmidt, former chairman of Google, predicted about Chinese inventions and future developments in the high tech world that “By 2020, they will have caught up. By 2025, they will be better than us. And by 2030, they will dominate the industry of artificial intelligence. In sheer scale and investment,” the New York Times reported, China already “rivals Silicon Valley.”


“In China, authorities are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to perfect an Orwellian system of online and real world surveillance to track citizens every move,” confirms Karen Kornbluh, Senior Fellow for Digital Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an article published by the GMF. Zhang Lun, Professor of Chinese studies at the Université de Cergy-Pontoise in Paris, was recently told by a friend, a Taiwan native, of an unusual experience while he was lecturing at a university in Shanghai. As he was trying out equipment in a classroom a sound voice came seemingly out of nowhere, chastising him for leaving the machine on after the test. The professor scanned the room. Nobody present. Then he discovered surveillance cameras and speakers on the wall - a chilling, Orwellian reminder that he would be teaching under the watchful eye of the school authorities. Zhang Lun believes that this experience “offers a glimpse into the changing academic environment” in China, where authorities “combine Mao–era spying practices with new surveillance technology to ferret out outspoken professors and students who fail to follow Communist Party ideology.” Since Mr. Xi took power in 2012, believes the Chinese professor in Paris, “the government has practically eliminated dissent or independent thinking on university campuses. […] Teachers are living in fear, because they believe Big Brother is watching them,” and most have chosen to remain compliant, resorting to self censorship in exchange for job security and personal safety.”


Adam Segal, the Ira A. Lipman Chair in Emerging Technologies and National Security at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), observed, in Foreign Affairs, that Chinese authorities have rolled out a sophisticated surveillance system based on a vast array of cameras and sensors, aided by facial and voice recognition software and artificial intelligence. “The tool has been deployed most extensively in Xinjiang province, in an effort to track the Muslim Uighur population there, but the government is working to scale it up nationwide.” 

“With millions of cameras and billions of lines of code, China is building a high tech authoritarian future,” reported Paul Mozur in his article “Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras,” published in the New York Times recently. “It wants to assemble a vast and unprecedented national surveillance system, with crucial help from its thriving technology industry.”China seems to reverse the vision of technology as a great democratizer, bringing people more freedom and connecting them to the world… These days technology is bringing increased control (Mozur, New York Times, 2018). 

China’s national data base of individuals that have been flagged for matching, including suspected terrorists, criminals, drug traffickers, political activists, and include 20-to-30 million people, far too many for today’s facial recognition system, but the authorities are trying to persuade the countries people that the high tech security state, Orwell’s utopia, is already in place. 

China can claim though that it has installed an estimated 200 million security cameras, four times as many as the United States. The truth is: we are just witnessing Orwell’s utopia turning slowly into reality. In his fictitious novel 1984, the British writer suggests that “it was not desirable that the ‘proles’ (the masses), should have strong political feelings.” All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism, which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to impose on them longer working hours or shorter rations. Sounds familiar in Moscow, Beijing and is applied by Trump’s battle cry “America First.” As in Orwell’s Oceania, the masses in Russia and China are controlled, spied upon. Opposition is a thought crime, and often the outspoken critic is disappearing into a hard labor or reeducation camp, reduced to a nonperson. If the proletariat reacts obstreperous, their rebellion will be oppressed. China’s new surveillance fever is based on an old idea: only strong authority can bring order to a turbulent country. “Mao Zedong,” observed Mozur in the New York Times, "took that philosophy to devastating ends, as his top-down rule brought famine and then the Cultural Revolution."

Xi Jinping, to solidify his power, has turned to the Mao-era beliefs in the importance of cult of personality and the role of the Communist Party in everyday life. Again, a similarity: Big Brother, the Party. Mr. Xi, the Party. Fiction meets reality. Technology gives the leader in Beijing the power to make it happen. As Big Brother, Mr. Xi is omnipresent. His quotations, almost each word, are the gospel, doctrine and ideology in one. Most universities have incorporated lectures on the “thoughts” of the almighty leader in to the basic-level ideology courses, which all Chinese students are required to take. “The indoctrination efforts extend well beyond academia,” notes London’s Economist, “In May the party’s propaganda department published a 355-page, 30-chapter book which it said provided an ‘in-depth’ understanding of Xi Thought. It said every party cell must study the work” (“China is struggling to explain Xi Jinping Thought,” Economist, 2018).  

Some firms have set up “XI Thought” rooms for those who are really trying to master the “Thought.” On July, the Global Times, a tabloid owned by the People’s Daily, crowed that the “Thought” was being studied “in all corners of society from local government to media outlets, from university students to street cleaners” (Global Times, 2018). One purpose of this ode of joy appears to be an attempt to enhance Mr. Xi's stature as a leader comparable to Mao.  
The Chinese president is not only focused on control through technology, but his goal is also to lead his nation of 1.4 billion citizens into a “Cyber-Superpower.” And Beijing is advancing in its goals-already more people in China have access to the internet than any other country. 

As explained by Adam Segal, in an article published in Foreign Affairs, “More students graduate with science and engineering degrees in China than anywhere in the world. In 2018, China overtook the United States in terms of the total number of scientific publications.” 

“The Xi era,” argues Segal, “will be remembered for putting an end to the West’s naïve optimism about the liberalizing potential of the internet. […] Over the last five years, Beijing has significantly tightened controls on web sites and social media”(Adam Segal, Foreign Affairs, 2018). 

“In March 2017, for example, the government told Tencent, the second largest of China’s digital giants, and other Chinese technology companies to shut down websites they hosted that included discussions on history, international affairs, and the military” (Adam Segal, Foreign Affairs, 2018). 

In March, the party also suspended video games on the internet, which for the gamers and companies like Tencent, who heavily depending on games was a disaster. Once games approval starts up again, their number, the government decided, will be limited to allay Communist party concerns about mental and physical health of young gamers.


Freedom House reported last year “that Internet freedom had declined globally for the seventh year in a row as China, Russia, and some Gulf states deployed a number of sophisticated methods for restricting access to online information and to communications tools. They have blocked virtual private networks, making it harder for users to evade censorship controls, and they have done the same with encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram, robbing dissidents of the ability to” maintain confidential communications (Karen Kornbluh, “The Internet's Lost Promise,” 2018). 

“China,” writes Nandan Nilekani, founder of one of India’s largest technology companies, “sees the Internet as something to be controlled and censored under the banner of ‘cyber sovereignty,’ trying to cordon off from the larger web and to control the information available to its citizens. Famously it has built the ‘Great Firewall,’ which blocks access to foreign websites and platforms” (“Data to the People,” Foreign Affairs, 2018). 
Nilekani further adds that “because there are cracks in the wall—foolproof controls are difficult for any government to impose—China also relies on the cooperation of private companies, which show little resistance to sharing data with the government” (“Data to the People,” Foreign Affairs, 2018).

As he further explains: “Alibaba and WeChat are competing to provide a digital version of China’s national identity card, required for everything from opening a bank account to getting a driver’s license. Chinese firms have even begun participating in the government’s ‘social credit’ system, whereby people are rewarded for good behavior, such as conserving energy, and penalized for bad behavior, such as spreading online rumors” (Nandan Nilekani, Foreign Affairs, 2018). A world, which Orwell imagined: the aggregation of information from public and private records to assess citizens’ behavior, generating a score that can be used to determine their opportunities for employment, education, housing and travel. Officials ordered telecommunication companies to block virtual private networks (VPNS) which are widely used by Chinese business, entrepreneurs and academicians to circumvent government censors. Even Western companies complied; Apple removed VPNS from the Chinese version of its app store.


In 2010, Google shut down its operation in China after it was revealed that the Chinese government had been hacking the Gmail accounts of dissidents and surveilling them through the search engine. Eight years later, Google is working on a search engine for China, known as “Dragonfly.” Its launch will be conditional on the approval of officials in Beijing and will have to comply with stringent censorship requirements. Google, no question, does not want to miss golden business opportunities. Nandan Nilekani is certain: “It is in Asia, however, where the future of the Internet is most likely to be written. China and India are the two largest markets for the Internet in the world, with 772 million and 481 million users, respectively. They are also the top two smartphone markets, and together they constitute 39 percent of the world’s 830 million youth on the Internet.”


Chinese officials reject any criticism of censorship and surveillance. Their objective isn’t simply to protect personal information, they argue, but mainly to protect national security. New rules mandate that certain data must remain inside China’s border at all times so the government has jurisdiction over its use. Already in 2015, China issued guidelines that aim to get Chinese firms to produce by 2025, 70 percent of the microchips used by Chinese industry. Since then, the government has subsidized domestic and foreign companies that move their operations to China and encourage domestic consumers to buy only from Chinese suppliers. The Chinese government has committed 150 billion dollars over the next decade to improve China’s ability to design and manufacture advanced microprocessors; in 2016, China was still importing 228 billion dollars worth of integrated circuits ―more than it spent on imported oil accounting for over 90 percent of its consumption.

Nilekani, also Chair of Infosys and Founding Chair of the “Unique Identification Authority of India,” argued in Foreign Affairs: “It is easy to dismiss the Chinese approach as authoritarian. And indeed, the government has used its control to stifle discontent. But Beijing can ‘rightly assert’ that it has created local competition for Big Tech.” China is the only country to create rivals that match the size of the US tech giants, with the homegrown companies Alibaba , Baidu, and Tencent. Beijing can also point out that it is managing to restrict some of the bad effects of the data economy (e.g. “thanks to the constant monitoring of content, outsiders would have an extremely hard time influencing politics in China”) as Moscow did in US elections and the Brexit vote. What will happen if Beijing continues its online ascent? One effect: the Internet will be less global and less open, leading to “a major part of China’s systems will run Chinese applications over Chinese made hard ware. And Beijing will reap the economic, diplomatic, national security and intelligence benefits that once flowed to Washington,” as observed by Adam Segal. As George Orwell noted in his novel 1984: “Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

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