Tag Archives: Naomi Klein

how data-driven government and the ‘Internet of Bodies’ are poised to transform smart sustainable cities into social impact prisons | Alison McDowell

Introduction (reposted in full):

Alison McDowell is a mother and an independent researcher based in Philadelphia, PA. She blogs at the intersection of race, finance, nature, and technology at wrenchinthegears.com.

Her activism began fighting to slow the privatisation of public education in her city. These efforts eventually led her to an examination of globalized poverty management, euphemistically known as social impact investing. This new form of capitalism – biocapitalism or stakeholder capitalism – aims to turn humans into data commodities.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has been planned out by Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum, seeks to replace human labor with artificial intelligence and robotics, a problem has arisen as to how life can be made profitable for transnational global capital interests once the poor have no buying power and are drowning in debt. The solution?

Human capital bond markets, but first everyone must be tagged and trackable for “impact.” That’s where biometric Covid health passports come in. Alison welcomes curious engagement and fellow travelers. You can follow her on Twitter at @philly852.

Alison McDowell’s presentation embedded above was part of an online forum, Politics In And Out Of Europe, hosted by Rutgers University’s Center for European Studies on Monday October 26th 2020. There were two panels followed by an hour of discussion. Alison McDowell was the second presenter, and framing remarks and response was provided by Naomi Klein. A full transcript is provided in the addendum below.

Click here to read the transcript in its original form interspersed with slides from the full presentation with comments beneath as it was published by Alison Hawver McDowell on her official website Wrench in the Gears on October 27th 2020.

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To mark ten year’s blogging, reproduced below is the sixth of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on August 7th 2011, if you tolerate this… looked into the creeping rollout of biometrics in society, in particular in schools thoughout the United Kingdom, and the central role played by Serco.

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My eldest nephew is very excited at the moment. He has just turned eleven and is about to move to his new secondary school. Anyway, a few weeks ago, my sister showed me a letter she’d received via the assistant head at her son’s new school. It read:

“Dear Parent/Carer,

I am pleased to inform you that we will be installing biometric fingerprint readers at the – – – School as part of the catering system.”

“Pleased to inform you… as part of the catering system!”, I parroted back, as my sister read on from the briefing, my own voice rising with incredulity. “They’re fingerprinting the kids to help with the catering?!”

“Yes, but he’s not going to have his fingerprints taken”, she assured me, “they’re not going to treat him like a prisoner. It’s not compulsory…” And she then read on:

“This will enable students to get their dinners more quickly by speeding up the payments process. It will also mean that they can put cash into the system (via paying in machines, like a ticket machine) whenever it suits them so that they do not have to carry cash around with them all day…”

I interrupted again: “But you could do that with a card or something.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, “that’s the alternative option…” And then continuing from the letter:

“Swipe cards can be issued as an alternative to the finger scanning however these can obviously be lost, forgotten or stolen.”

“So what are the other parents thinking?” I asked her.

“There are a few of us refusing but mostly they think it’s just a good idea.”

“Do you know what company’s behind it?” I asked.

“No, but there are some notes on the back…” And she turned the letter over to show me, adding: “perhaps you can check it out”.

On the back of the letter, there is indeed “information” about the biometric system being installed. Information that explains why: “students, parents and staff can rest assured that the fingerprint images cannot be used by any other source for identification purposes”, because “the software turns your child’s fingerprint into a mathematical algorithm” and about how “the image of the fingerprint is then discarded”.

What the notes fail to mention, however, is that this kind of “processing” is standard procedure when recording any kind of digital biometrics. With “image capture” followed by “feature extraction” leading finally to “digital representation”, data compression is an inevitability, but that’s okay so long as in this processing the “vital information” isn’t lost. The important thing is that “the encoded information is functionally as unique as the original, and as easily processed, i.e., compared.”

How do I know this? In part because I’ve just read through Chapter 8 of the Defense Science Board Task Force report on biometrics (p35–6) published in September 2006. Not that a report from the US Department of Defense has anything to do with the installation of a catering system at a school in Sheffield, obviously…

So the fact that “the information stored cannot be used to recreate an image of the child’s fingerprint”, as the notes on the back of the letter explain, is actually beside the point. The actual point being that they can be used to identify the child, because the information is still “as functionally unique as the original”. To put all this another way, a photograph cannot be used to reconstruct a perfect 3-D likeness of your head. There is a loss of information. But that obviously doesn’t mean a photograph can’t be used to identify you. It can, and even when still more information is removed, by let’s say photocopying it a few times, a photo will still retain a sufficiently detailed likeness to identify you. Biometrics are just the next step down. The original photo can be deleted, just so long as sufficient details are retained of, for example, how wide your mouth is and how close together your eyes are. With enough of the right pieces of information, they can distinguish one person from another, reliably and consistently. Which is how biometrics works.

All of this biometric information, “the unique digital signatures” are then held in the database, as the notes on the letter from school also explain. Less clear is who actually owns this database. And skipping through the other details on the back of the letter, I can’t immediately find the name of the company involved, but it does give the brand name of their “cashless catering system”, which is IMPACT. So I looked up IMPACT:

“A million users in over 1700 schools throughout the UK.

We design, build and maintain industry leading, reliable and functional cashless payment systems under the brand name IMPACT…”

Here begins the sales pitch on the homepage of CRB Solutions. Never heard of them? Nor had I. Well, it turns out that they are a “Serco Learning Partner”, one of many. Indeed, Serco have more than 20 current “Learning Partners” offering “solutions” to “clients” (i.e., schools and colleges across the country), which means they have access to a lot of biometric and other kinds of data on school pupils and college students. For instance, listed directly above CRB Solutions, there is Aurora Computer Services, who are:

“The UK market leader in face recognition. faceREGISTER is designed for sixth form registration or whole school lateness. faceREGISTER enables students to register automatically in school, college or university.”

Gone are the days, apparently, when teachers simply remembered their student’s faces. Now whenever a student is late:

“they will be asked for a reason why they are late and these marks are fed back to Serco Facility via our administration software faceMANAGER.”

Those of a more curious disposition are perhaps wondering what other kinds of personal information is downloaded at the “Serco Facility”. In fact, what other kinds of information more generally, since Serco already offers its services in sectors as diverse as environmental services, health, science, transport, local government, welfare to work, defence and nuclear. Nuclear? Yes, nuclear:

“We support the operation of over 20 nuclear reactors, and serve as the lead nuclear safety advisor to Westinghouse, designer of the AP1000 nuclear reactor currently under assessment for the UK’s new civil nuclear programme.” 1

That and the management of the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), which Serco says is the leading nuclear technology services provider in the UK, “with expertise across the full range of nuclear technology, including waste management, nuclear safety and non-proliferation, materials and corrosion and plant inspection.” So that’s pretty comprehensive. Aside from this, Serco also manages the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) as part of a consortium with Lockheed Martin and Jacobs. So the company behind the introduction of school biometrics systems across the country is also responsible for managing the UK atomic power and weapons programmes:

“Serco has a reputation for being a tad secretive. This is perhaps not surprising, as it manages the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire, where nuclear weapons are made, and runs the ballistic missile early warning system.

There are parts of AWE that even the head of the company, Kevin Beeston, can’t go into. Other secrets, too, are kept from him, such as where the company stores evidence on behalf of the National Crime Squad. “I don’t need to know or want to know,” he says.” 2

So begins an article entitled “Serco thunders down the tracks: Traffic lights, rail services, atomic weapons, the time of day. This secretive company manages them all” from the Independent on Sunday, published in March 2002. The article goes on:

“While many people haven’t heard of Serco, almost everyone in this country will have come across its services. It is Serco that runs the speed cameras on the M25, and maintains the traffic signals on a third of motorways in the UK. Half of London’s traffic lights are run by Serco, as are all the signals in Dublin. Manchester’s tram service, Metrolink, and London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) are both Serco-operated. When you ring National Rail Enquiries, you will speak to a Serco employee. The company has also built hospitals and prisons.

“In fact, Serco is so ubiquitous, it even sets the time. It manages the National Physical Laboratory, which owns the atomic clock that gives us Greenwich Mean Time.

“You’d be forgiven for thinking Serco was a government ministry.”

This article was published almost a decade ago and yet Serco‘s involvement in running public services was so large and far-flung that comparison is already being made to “a government ministry”. So just how did Serco manage to expand so rapidly and yet so inconspicuously? Well, here’s a brief overview of their rise and rise, taken from the same article:

“As well as having a novel corporate culture, Serco also has an intriguing history. It started out in 1929 as the UK maintenance division of RCA, at the time a cinema and radio equipment company. In the late Fifties it got its first taste of top-secret government contracts. The Ministry of Defence needed a radio equipment specialist to design, build and run the four-minute warning system for nuclear attacks. RCA got the job and has been maintaining it since.

“But it was in the early Eighties that the government-related business really started taking off. Beeston takes up the story: ‘Mrs Thatcher had come in power in 1979 and began reducing public sector costs on a tax-reduction agenda and carrying out privatisation. One of biggest areas that was first turned to contractualisation was the Ministry of Defence.’

“Happily for Serco, Thatcher’s successors, John Major and Tony Blair, both exhibited a fondness for getting the private sector involved in the public sector.”

Click here to read the full article by Heather Tomlinson.

Four years later and Serco were already being talked of as “probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of”, as a glowing profile of their CEO Christopher Hyman in the Guardian explained:

“Have you recently travelled on a train in northern England? Or on London’s Docklands Light Railway? Or perhaps been caught by a speed camera?

“If the answer to any of these questions was yes — or you have spent any time in custody or the armed forces — chances are you have dealt with the support services company Serco. With almost 48,000 people helping to service 600 largely public-sector contracts around the world, Serco is probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of.” 3

No longer a small British subsidiary of a little known American corporation, by 2006, when the article above was published, Serco had gone global. Here, for instance, is taste of what Serco are already running in Canada, Ireland, Dubai, and Australia these days:

Taken from ABC Australia’s Hungry Beast. [Link has since been removed]

Rebranded with Olympian titles, we are familiar with the names of most of our new gods: Blackwater and DynCorp, gods of war and reconstruction; Monsanto, god of harvests; Nokia, god of messages; Walmart, god of convenience; Aviva, god of life (insurance); but then, above and beyond all of these, there is Serco, the god of all the things the other gods don’t already do. A god without portfolio, and although not quite omnipresent, Serco is certainly “highly maneuverable”. As their own bragging PR likes to put it: “Serco has a finger in many pies”.

Now, having reached this point I realise that I have drifted well away from the original issue. My initial response to reading the letter from my nephew’s school having been to wonder at the kind of country we are living in. Already the most surveilled society in history, and now face-scanning and fingerprinting our children on a routine basis. In the process, as my sister says, we are already treating them as if they’re little criminals. Is it really necessary to hammer home the point here?

For we may believe this data can and will never be retrieved for uses beyond the bounds of the schools and colleges involved, but in permitting such licence we are nevertheless inculcating a sense of naïve trust in the next generation, which will normalise them to accept adult life in a surveillance society. We are teaching them to submit to authority. The word Orwellian is very overworked, but what other word can be applied in this instance? We are fingerprinting our children and entrusting that information to the major government defence contractor. And there is barely a raised eyebrow. Parents are mostly thinking that this is “helpful”. So please, if you haven’t done so already, read Nineteen Eighty-Four (not that Orwell has anything to say about fingerprint or face recognition systems, because back in the 1940s such hi-tech digital biometrics had yet to be imagined, let alone invented).

So what kind of a world awaits my nephew and his friends when he finally leaves school in five years time? Well, that will depend.

The road ahead is already laid. As our national assets and provision of our state sector were stolen away, Serco, and a few other giant corporations, absorbed the new workforce and took over. And now, as ours and other economies around the world begin to splutter and flail, they are about to suck up whatever remains at bargain prices. Finally, they will put up their toll-booths at every turn of our daily lives, and in the envisaged “cashless society”, these toll-booths will also be our checkpoints — logging every transaction and every movement.

History ought to have taught us to beware, its overriding message being that the rise of tyranny needs to be constantly guarded against. But those, like Thatcher and Reagan, who rushed us away from more direct forms of centralised government (supposedly to save us from a Soviet style tyranny) have delivered us instead into the talons of an unregulated and monopolised market. Any distinction between interests of the state and the corporations having thus been eroded, the takeover by multinationals such as Serco has been unstoppable. After all, someone has to be in charge of things. Serco then (and the pantheon of other corporate gods we must increasingly bow to) amounts to governance by another title, and not merely at a national scale, but transnationally — a few corporations becoming, in effect, arms of an unelected and largely unaccountable “global governance”.

This shift away from democracy and towards neo-feudalism is happening in plain sight. You even get the picture from Serco‘s own PR  material — the closing overlapping mosaic of corporate heads in their latest video simultaneously and hypnotically announcing: “we are Serco”; with the eerie subtext being that “resistance is futile”. But resistance isn’t futile, not yet…

If you’d like further information about this widening programme of school biometrics then I direct you to a worthwhile campaign group called Leave Them Kids Alone (LTKA) that is calling for a stop to this latest encroachment upon our civil liberties, or rather, the civil liberties of our children.

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Addendum: The full transcript of Alison McDowell’s presentation

We’re living in tumultuous times with polarizing political theater and pandemic providing ample cover for the roll out of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. From the World Economic Forum’s outpost at San Francisco’s Presidio, the tentacles of dispossession triggered by Klaus Schwab’s “Great Reset” are rapidly encircling the globe.

We are witnessing the culmination of a century of machinations by western social engineers. We see predatory philanthropy using such euphemistic framing as “Living Cities,” “Healthy Cities,” “Resilient Cities,” and “Build Back Better” to package the profoundly anti-human and anti-life initiatives coming out of Davos as aspirational goals for “smart” living.

The oligarch class asks us to play along and overlook the fact that all of this smartness rests on a foundation of continued growth, fossil-fuel expansion, child labor, toxic waste, and space pollution. They demand we overlook the insatiable energy requirements needed to run the augmented reality Internet of Things illusion. That we put out of our minds the existence of vast data centers cooled 24/7 with the water of a thirsty, poisoned world.

They’ve outdone themselves propagandizing youth to cheer on transnational global capital’s plans to implement a final “green” solution. Though my hope is after months of digital alienation people’s spirits will stir in time to derail the intentions of this cruel biocapitalist regime to push us away from our rightful connection to natural systems and one another and into isolated virtual realms. The spell of faux ICT sustainability must be broken.

Predatory debt-finance got a spit and polish makeover, rebranded as circular economies and stakeholder capitalism to make it more palatable. Post-Covid, vast poverty mining enterprises will emerge from the ashes. Smart city sensor networks, predictive policing, and public-private partnerships will latch onto shell-shocked families trying to pick up the pieces.

And while Bitcoin-loving Agorists dream of liberation on Blockchain, central bankers have an entirely different vision in mind. They are conjuring a future of data flowing through digital wallets, fuel for an emergent social impact economy, one carefully plotted out for Third Sector, now Fourth Sector, implementation by Social Finance and Sir Ronald Cohen, Harvard Business School graduate and father of UK venture capital.

Bloomberg Philanthropies Digital Innovation Project and the Global Parliament of Mayors based out of The Hague will ensure gov-tech and open data platforms are ready to deliver all the data that is needed. Conveniently, a new “operating system for government” developed by Neil Kleiman of NYU’s GovLab and Stephen Goldsmith of Harvard Kennedy School’s Data-Smart City Solutions, will permit politicians to deftly shift accountability for devastating policies onto faceless cadres of analysts. Dashboards are effective weapons to sway populations conditioned for compliance. It’s difficult to effectively direct public sentiment against something as ephemeral as an algorithm.

The war on terror has been swapped out for pandemic preparedness, which should work out well for the World Bank’s efforts to grow their vaccine and pandemic bond markets. We all pose threats to state security simply by living in a human body. Robot police dogs, drones, facial recognition cameras, wearable sensors, and biometric tracking are framed vital investments needed to keep communities “safe” in what is rapidly becoming a global open air prison. Track and trace free-range humans; look to industrial farming; look to wildlife management; look to Gaza; look to The Commons Project.

CommonPass isn’t their only venture. Not by a long shot.

It’s not just air travel that the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Economic Forum intend to regulate. In their imagined future, presentation of tokenized credentials will be required to go to work, to school, to the store, to access public buildings and events. Such micro-management was unfathomable mere months ago, at least to everyone not in on the scheme.

When we speak of politics, when we speak of citizens’ rights this is THE game changer. Who voted in Common Pass? Who decided individual liberties will now be governed by apps advanced by corporations that stand to profit from population management?

How relevant will national borders be in an age of real-time geo-fencing? Pass laws have long been used to control targeted populations: on Indian reservations, in Nazi Germany, in Apartheid South Africa. Now we have Serco. Now we have legal discrimination based on health status? In the global biosecurity state on any given day the border could very well end up being your front door.

rutgers-10

If we don’t object, moving forward blockchain tokens representing all sorts of digital assets, including rights and privileges, will be held in digital accounts. Social entrepreneurs need these biometric identity systems in place in order to install their planned impact economy. Using health status as an issue of national security, our hijacked governments plan to impose this upon us, not for our own good, but because the biocapitalist agenda must proceed.

Few realize it, but the Covid drama is providing cover for a far more insidious program of perpetual tracking and tracing tied to health management and Sustainable Development Goal 3. Health data will create new equity markets meaning more and more wearable tech surveillance. The Impact Management Project’s practitioners, the asset holders whose greed led to a world beset by chronic illness, have structured profit centers in Internet of Things preventative care – social determinants of health weaponized.

What we are living through is not a public health emergency but a reset of the global economy managed from Davos on behalf of the finance, technology and defense sectors. This “new normal” is totalitarianism wrapped up in a shiny “green” bow.

The post-Covid world will be characterized by welfare dependency on a scale heretofore unimaginable, justifying the creation of innovative human capital debt products. Portfolios of people, poor people, will emerge as a new asset class enabled by pay for success government contracts.

Education, training, healthcare, counseling, nutrition, and housing services all aligned to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to generate the metrics needed to satisfy contractual obligations. The richness of life narrowed to fit the stingy confines of a data analyst’s worldview.

rutgers-12

This is a diagram featuring a digital wallet where food assistance funds are stored on blockchain with coded nudges guiding a recipient’s food purchase behaviors.

The State of Illinois Blockchain Task Force developed this thought experiment, but similar digital food payment programs are in use to manage the displaced. UK company IrisGuard’s is a major player in that space. Additional NHS has made arrangements to purchase DNA nudge bands tied to Covid Testing. Makes you wonder where the DNA from the testing is going, doesn’t it? Likely into academic tech-transfer hubs. Such is biocapitalism.

Stakeholder capitalists can’t profitably mine poverty without biometric identification that can be used to aggregate interoperable data. Vaccine registries are central to this program. GAVI is a key player with Gates sitting at the pinnacle of the Stakeholder Capitalist pyramid. ID2020 efforts running through the United Nations will ensure no one “gets left behind,” but few are aware the US Department of Homeland Security bankrolled much of the World Wide Web Consortium’s work in the digital identity space.

As I prepared these remarks I couldn’t help but mull over the intelligence communities’ interest in signals intelligence, weaponized narrative, simulation, predictive modeling, and social contagion. How will our collective voices ripple through this militarized cloud architecture into the general consciousness and beyond? Such are the thoughts that haunt the corners of a Zoom consciousness – Bluffdale and the NSA always out on the horizon, you know?

But those with eyes to see have the duty to speak.

So I am here today as a mother.

I am here as a mapper of geographies of power, as a voracious LinkedIn profile reader, and a viewer of obscure government webinars.

I am here as a resident of Philadelphia, a “smart” city set up for predatory “what works” “data-driven” government.

I am here to shine a light on municipal nudge units funded by self-interested foundations seeking to replace civil servants with apps that manage citizens as agents in behavioral economic equations.

I am here as a human relative living among a multitude of non-human beings on this beautiful earth, not yet remade as a planetary computer to profit social impact investors.

I am here as a lover of stars who opposes the weaponization of space, the atmosphere, and our weather systems.

I am here as a voice for peace who views 5G and the planned 6G installation as a domestic military occupation.

I am here to speak of Davos’s plans to deny us the opportunity to communally atone for and begin to remedy the devastation capitalism has wrought against nature and indigenous people.

I am here because we have entered a cyborg era in which sociopathic billionaires and defense contractors want to fundamentally alter what it means to be human, tapping nano-technology and morally bankrupt scientists to do their dirty work.

To the wealth hoarders, the masses exist as nodes in the Internet of Bodies, nodes that must be separated from the cosmic dance through force of law, hydro-gel biosensors, and blockchain.

Will you own your ledger or will your ledger own you? We are looking at a future where the masses will forfeit their innate human freedoms in exchange for the behavioral currency needed to survive within the panopticon.

Human capital bonded. Each life calculated according to its perceived burden on the coming robot society, at least in the eyes of hedge fund traders as they place their bets.

Don’t worry there’s safety on the “continuum of care” pathway. Just do as you’re told and keep your social credit score where it needs to be.

Every move in every country advances lockstep – a playbook aligned to strategic investments made over decades by philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar, Steve Ballmer, and Marc Benioff.

Will human rights mean anything once financiers, faith community endowments, health insurers, pensions, and even sovereign wealth funds hold our futures in escrow?

Rockefeller Foundation-funded think tank change agents have cleared the way for life to be railroaded into virtual space – for our own good, the good of the planet, in service of the World Bank’s One Health initiative.

The oligarchs will use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to justify imprisoning the planet using sensor networks. Once the electrical engineers have nature and humanity firmly in their grasp, transnational global capital can channel its concentrated wealth through our bodies, our social relationships, and our non-human kin.

As we stand on this threshold questions must be asked.

Who intends to rule life on Earth?

To what end?

On whose authority?

John Trudell, visionary leader of the American Indian Movement, poet and prophet, expressed that it is our responsibility to use the intelligence gifted to us by the creator to be thinkers who will go up against the machine of tech-no-logic.

So today I am here to declare on behalf of the women of the world to say we do not consent to Davos’s Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In this battle of sacred and profane we stand ready to defend the children and the earth from further predation and to strive towards a future of reciprocity and abundance and spirit.

We stand firm in our power full of love and light, ready to face off against Klaus Schwab’s PharmaColonial Technocracy of Necromancers.

Click here to read the same article interspersed with slides from the full presentation and comments published on Alison Hawver McDowell’s official website Wrench in the Gears on October 27th 2020.

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1 http://www.serco.com/markets/nuclear/index.asp

2 From an article entitled “Serco thunders down the tracks: Traffic lights, rail services, atomic weapons, the time of day. This secretive company manages them all” by Heather Tomlinson published in the Independent on Sunday on Sunday 10th March 2002 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/serco-thunders-down-the-tracks-653444.html

3 From an article entitled “Happy, touchy-feely and driven by God: The Serco chief Christopher Hyman is unusual for his values of doing business, with staff and customers coming first and profit last” by Jane Martinson, published in the Guardian on Friday 24th February, 2006. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2006/feb/24/columnists.guardiancolumnists

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corona marginalia: techno-tyranny

“How do we really use new technology in the economy of tomorrow? And that’s the lesson that we’re all learning right: work from home; telemedicine; tele-education. It’s all about technology, and a better use of technology, and really incorporating the lessons into that. And probably the best mind in this country, if not on the globe to do this, is I believe a true visionary, especially in the field of technology, and that’s Eric Schmidt.”

This is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effusive welcome to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt when he joined him for the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday May 6th. Cuomo continues:

“[Schmidt] saw a future that no-one else envisioned and then developed a way to get there. And we’ve asked him to come work with us to bring that kind of visionary aspect to government and society. Let’s look at what we just went through. Let’s anticipate a future through that lens. And tell us how we can incorporate these lessons. And Mr Schmidt who has tremendous demands on his talent and his time has agreed to help us and head an effort to do this.”

Eric Schmidt, no less lavish in his praise for Cuomo, says:

“Thank you Governor. You have been doing an incredible job for our state and frankly for the nation, and I’m really pleased to help. The first priorities of what we’re trying to do are focused on telehealth, remote learning and broadband. We can take this terrible disaster and accelerate all of those ways that will make things much, much better.”

The author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein begins her latest article entitled “Screen New Deal” with reflections on this video meeting and Cuomo’s announcement that Schmidt “will be heading up a blue-ribbon commission to reimagine New York state’s post-Covid reality, with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life”:

This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors, and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.

She continues:

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fueled future was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality, and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.

And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication — eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail, or transportation.

That was the ancient past known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Adding:

Thanks to Cuomo and his various billionaire partnerships (including one with Michael Bloomberg for testing and tracing), New York state is being positioned as the gleaming showroom for this grim future — but the ambitions reach far beyond the borders of any one state or country.

And at the dead center of it all is Eric Schmidt.

Klein notes: “Lest there be any doubt that the former Google chair’s goals were purely benevolent, his video background featured a framed pair of golden angel wings.”

Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.

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Eric Schmidt and the NSCAI

“[D]ata is the new oil. And China is just awash with data. And they don’t have the same restraints that we do around collecting it and using it, because of the privacy difference between our countries. This notion that they have the largest labeled data set in the world is going to be a huge strength for them.”

— Chris Darby, President and CEO of In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the CIA and member of NSCAI. *

The second part of Klein’s article moves on to discuss the Sidewalk Labs division of Google’s parent company Alphabet and specifically their “smart cities” Toronto project. This is a topic I have addressed in my last post published as it happened on the eve of the project being shut down following what Klein describes as “two years of ceaseless controversy relating to the enormous amounts of personal data that Alphabet would collect, a lack of privacy protections, and questionable benefits for the city as a whole.”

But central to her article is an investigation into Schmidt’s other roles both as Chair of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Department of Defense on increased use of artificial intelligence in the military, and as Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) which advises Congress on “advances in artificial intelligence, related machine learning developments, and associated technologies.”

Specifically, Klein draws attention to slides from a presentation made by Schmidt’s NSCAI back in May 2019, that have since been released following a Freedom of Information request made by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

In fact a week prior to Klein’s excellent piece, independent journalist Whitney Webb had already brought attention to the same document release; the presentation in question is titled “Chinese Tech Landscape Overview”.

Webb writes:

This document suggests that the U.S. follow China’s lead and even surpass them in many aspects related to AI-driven technologies, particularly their use of mass surveillance. This perspective clearly clashes with the public rhetoric of prominent U.S. government officials and politicians on China, who have labeled the Chinese government’s technology investments and export of its surveillance systems and other technologies as a major “threat” to Americans’ “way of life.”

In addition, many of the steps for the implementation of such a program in the U.S., as laid out in this newly available document, are currently being promoted and implemented as part of the government’s response to the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. This likely due to the fact that many members of this same body have considerable overlap with the taskforces and advisors currently guiding the government’s plans to “re-open the economy” and efforts to use technology to respond to the current crisis.

Webb then highlights Eric Schmidt’s “similar concerns about ‘losing’ technological advantage to China”:

[Schmidt] argued in February in the New York Times that Silicon Valley could soon lose “the technology wars” to China if the U.S. government doesn’t take action. Thus, the three main groups represented within the NSCAI – the intelligence community, the Pentagon and Silicon Valley – all view China’s advancements in AI as a major national security threat (and in Silicon Valley’s case, threat to their bottom lines and market shares) that must be tackled quickly.

Naomi Klein likewise draws attention to the NYT op-ed headlined “I used to Run Google. Silicon Valley Could Lose to China”, in which Schmidt had called for “unprecedented partnerships between government and industry” and is, in Klein’s words “once again, sounding the yellow peril alarm”. She then quotes the salient passages:

A.I. will open new frontiers in everything from biotechnology to banking, and it is also a Defense Department priority. … If current trends continue, China’s overall investments in research and development are expected to surpass those of the United States within 10 years, around the same time its economy is projected to become larger than ours.

Unless these trends change, in the 2030s we will be competing with a country that has a bigger economy, more research and development investments, better research, wider deployment of new technologies and stronger computing infrastructure. … Ultimately, the Chinese are competing to become the world’s leading innovators, and the United States is not playing to win.

On this pretext of regaining competitive advantage over China, the NSCAI presentation goes on to cite the kinds of “structural factors” that need to be altered.

Here is Whitney Webb again:

Chief among the troublesome “structural factors” highlighted in this presentation are so-called “legacy systems” that are common in the U.S. but much less so in China. The NSCAI document states that examples of “legacy systems” include a financial system that still utilizes cash and card payments, individual car ownership and even receiving medical attention from a human doctor. It states that, while these “legacy systems” in the US are “good enough,” too many “good enough” systems “hinder the adoption of new things,” specifically AI-driven systems. […]

The document also defines another aspect of government support as the “clearing of regulatory barriers.” This term is used in the document specifically with respect to U.S. privacy laws, despite the fact that the U.S. national security state has long violated these laws with near complete impunity. However, the document seems to suggest that privacy laws in the U.S. should be altered so that what the U.S. government has done “in secret” with private citizen data can be done more openly and more extensively. The NSCAI document also discusses the removal of “regulatory barriers” in order to speed up the adoption of self-driving cars, even though autonomous driving technology has resulted in several deadly and horrific car accidents and presents other safety concerns.

Who are NSCAI? Webb provides us with a list of members and their interests:

Other members of the NSCAI are as follows:

  • Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle, with close ties to Trump’s top donor Sheldon Adelson
  • Steve Chien, supervisor of the Artificial Intelligence Group at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab
  • Mignon Clyburn, Open Society Foundation fellow and former FCC commissioner
  • Chris Darby, CEO of In-Q-Tel (CIA’s venture capital arm)
  • Ken Ford, CEO of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
  • Jose-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University and former National Science Board member
  • Eric Horvitz, director of Microsoft Research Labs
  • Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services (CIA contractor)
  • Gilman Louie, partner at Alsop Louie Partners and former CEO of In-Q-Tel
  • William Mark, director of SRI International and former Lockheed Martin director
  • Jason Matheny, director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, former Assistant director of National Intelligence and former director of IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency)
  • Katharina McFarland, consultant at Cypress International and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
  • Andrew Moore, head of Google Cloud AI

As can be seen in the list above, there is a considerable amount of overlap between the NSCAI and the companies currently advising the White House on “re-opening” the economy (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Lockheed Martin, Oracle) and one NSCAI member, Oracle’s Safra Katz, is on the White House’s “economic revival” taskforce. Also, there is also overlap between the NSCAI and the companies that are intimately involved in the implementation of the “contact tracing” “coronavirus surveillance system,” a mass surveillance system promoted by the Jared Kushner-led, private-sector coronavirus task force. That surveillance system is set to be constructed by companies with deep ties to Google and the U.S. national security state, and both Google and Apple, who create the operating systems for the vast majority of smartphones used in the U.S., have said they will now build that surveillance system directly into their smartphone operating systems.

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Techno-tyranny: How the US National Security State is using Coronavirus to Fulfill an Orwellian Vision” published on May 4th at her official website Unlimited Hangout.

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Tele-everything!

In her article for The Intercept, Naomi Klein supplies an update and a glimpse of the headway already made by the tech giants in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Responding to a subsequent op-ed by Eric Schmidt [passages in Italics], Klein writes:

Less than two weeks into New York state’s lockdown, Schmidt wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that both set the new tone and made clear that Silicon Valley had every intention of leveraging the crisis for a permanent transformation.

Like other Americans, technologists are trying to do their part to support the front-line pandemic response. …

But every American should be asking where we want the nation to be when the Covid-19 pandemic is over. How could the emerging technologies being deployed in the current crisis propel us into a better future? … Companies like Amazon know how to supply and distribute efficiently. They will need to provide services and advice to government officials who lack the computing systems and expertise.

We should also accelerate the trend toward remote learning, which is being tested today as never before. Online, there is no requirement of proximity, which allows students to get instruction from the best teachers, no matter what school district they reside in. …

The need for fast, large-scale experimentation will also accelerate the biotech revolution. … Finally, the country is long overdue for a real digital infrastructure…. If we are to build a future economy and education system based on tele-everything, we need a fully connected population and ultrafast infrastructure. The government must make a massive investment—perhaps as part of a stimulus package—to convert the nation’s digital infrastructure to cloud-based platforms and link them with a 5G network.

Indeed Schmidt has been relentless in pursuing this vision. Two weeks after that op-ed appeared, he described the ad-hoc homeschooling programing that teachers and families across the country had been forced to cobble together during this public health emergency as “a massive experiment in remote learning.” The goal of this experiment, he said, was “trying to find out: How do kids learn remotely? And with that data we should be able to build better remote and distance learning tools which, when combined with the teacher … will help kids learn better.” During this same video call, hosted by the Economic Club of New York, Schmidt also called for more telehealth, more 5G, more digital commerce, and the rest of the preexisting wish list. All in the name of fighting the virus.

His most telling comment, however, was this: “The benefit of these corporations, which we love to malign, in terms of the ability to communicate, the ability to deal with health, the ability to get information, is profound. Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon.” He added that people should “be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we’re using now, and have really helped us out.”

Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.

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* From an article entitled “In-Q-Tel President Chris Darby on the intelligence community’s innovation challenges” written by Olivia Gazis, published in CBS News on April 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/intelligence-matters-in-q-tel-president-chris-darby-on-the-intelligence-communitys-innovation-challenges/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, mass surveillance, USA

Catastroika: the other price of austerity

A little over a year ago, Greek journalists Katerina Kitidi and Aris Hadjistefanou released an important documentary film called Debtocracy. Their film showed how the financial catastrophe now taking place in Greece and elsewhere in Europe is nothing new, and, drawing parallels with earlier austerity offensives in places like Argentina and Ecuador, also presented a way out of the current debt crisis on the basis of previously established precedents – most importantly the precedent for the cancellation of odious debts. It is available to watch online for free, with the option of English, Spanish, Portuguese and French subtitles.

Click here to read an earlier review and also to watch a version with English subtitles.

The same film-makers have now released what is in effect a sequel to Debtocracy. Entitled Catastroika for reasons that quickly become apparent, this latest documentary looks more closely at the other side of the story, revealing how the emergency fire sale of Greek public assets is also nothing new.

Beginning in Russia in the early 1990s, the film shows the devastating consequences of Boris Yeltsin’s programme of IMF and the World Bank backed ‘liberalisation’ and ‘reform’. Resistance to these measures had been strong and so ultimately, following a wave of mass protests, Yeltsin took the extraordinary decision to storm his own parliament with a direct military assault, killing hundreds of his opponents who were trapped inside.

Catastroika also looks into the effects of deregulation of public services in other places around the world. The sell-off and the deliberate destruction of Eastern competitors following German reunification, and in Britain, the Major government’s disastrous privatisation of our rail network. The film details how Railtrack‘s poor safety record and spiralling costs eventually led to the collapse of the company and its de facto renationalisation; the longer term consequence being increased prices and larger state subsidies than when the whole rail system had been publicly maintained and operated.

The film then moves to Paris and investigates Jacques Chirac’s sale of the Parisian water supply into the monopoly hands of Veolia and Suez in spite of giving no economic justification and against huge public opposition. Lastly, it looks into the deregulation of the electricity industry in California, and how this was very cleverly exploited by Enron and other companies who deliberately caused blackouts in order to hike prices.

Drawing upon expert support from academics and other informed opponents to such privatisation initiatives, the film also includes more general analysis from Naomi Klein, Greg Palast and Ken Loach.

Click here to watch the full documentary with English subtitles.

To visit the official website for Catastroika click here.

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Update:

Since I wrote this review, several versions of Catastroika have been uploaded on youtube with English subtitles. The one embedded below seems to be a good one:

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Filed under austerity measures, Britain, debt cancellation, did you see?, France, Greece, Greg Palast, Italy, neo-liberalism, Russia, USA