My latest Guardian column is Technology is making the world more unequal. Only technology can fix this; in it, I argue that surveillance and control technology allow ruling elites to hold onto power despite the destabilizing effects of their bad decisions — but that technology also allows people to form dissident groups and protect them from intrusive states.
The question, then, isn’t whether technology makes the world more equal and prosperous, but how to use technology to attain those goals.
This is the question my novel Walkaway grapples with: which technologies make the future better, and how can we use them to defend ourselves against the technologies that make the future worse?
After all, there comes a point when the bill for guarding your wealth exceeds the cost of redistributing some of it, so you won’t need so many guards.
But that’s where technology comes in: surveillance technology makes guarding the elites much cheaper than it’s ever been. GCHQ and the NSA have managed to put the entire planet under continuous surveillance. Less technologically advanced countries can play along: Ethiopia was one of the world’s first “turnkey surveillance states”, a country with a manifestly terrible, looting elite class that has kept guillotines and firing squads at bay through buying in sophisticated spying technology from European suppliers, and using this to figure out which dissidents, opposition politicians and journalists represent a threat, so it can subject them to arbitrary detention, torture and, in some cases, execution.
As technology pervades, spying becomes cheaper and inequality becomes more stable – but not infinitely stable. With enough inequality over enough time, the cherished idiocies of the ruling elites will eventually cause a collapse. All technology does is delay it, which is terrible news, since the longer a foolish policy is in place, the more of a policy-debt we incur, and the worse the payback will be: lost generations, rising seas, etc.
That’s the bad news.
Technology is making the world more unequal. Only technology can fix this
[Cory Doctorow/The Guardian]