Are totalitarian systems inevitable?

More potent technology could require more thorough surveillance. But will that make totalitarian governments inevitable?

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I recently had a long discussion with a friend about what the future could look like, and which role AI and surveillance could play in that hypothetical world.

The question that we could not really decide on was whether a totalitarian system would be inevitable in a future with highly advanced technology, or if there could possibly be a world where progress is ubiquitous, but where people still enjoy privacy, independence, and any concerns that usually emerge in discussions about progress and AI.

Doesn't access to highly advanced technology demand surveillance?

Many people would agree that totalitarian systems that scrutinize everything their citizens do could be described as negative and suppressing. However, if we have access to highly advanced - and potentially dangerous - technology, surveillance could actually prevent people from using that technology to harm people. So, does that mean that you ought to observe everyone, because a few people might actually turn out to be trying to be the supervillains? When we talk about AI and surveillance, we must not forget that surveillance also could mean more security for our civilization.

Is a totalitarian system really a bad thing?

If the purpose of such a system is only to prevent a few people from doing any harm using highly advanced technology, does that mean that it actually may not be as corrupt as many people (and nearly every Hollywood movie) want to make us think? Is it just something that is necessary to protect people, like traffic lights or food safety inspection?

What causes people to be worried about totalitarian systems?

The discussion about whether surveillance by AI or the vanishing of privacy is a threat, or if it is just necessary probably stems from a concern that backers of totalitarian systems and opponents would agree on. Mistrust. People may be concerned that governments could use their power wrongly, and people that back the surveillance might be worried that people use technology for evil purposes if they are not being observed. Among the concerns about totalitarian governments surely also are the selling of personal data for profit, and AI that could make decisions that humans may not understand or support, like labeling people to prevent them from doing any harm.

Just go and watch "Joker" (no really, watch it, it's amazing). At the beginning of the movie, some people might have believed that there could be at least a slight chance that Phoenix' character doesn't turn and become evil. However, an AI would have probably measured his brainwaves and therefore recognized that he had the potential to become a villain, and would likely have imprisoned him before he had the chance to turn. This form of scrutinizing and labeling people might be one of the concerns of the utmost importance when privacy disappears.

However, this is only an admittedly dry analysis about what could be concerns about a totalitarian system. I want to hear your opinion. Do you think totalitarian systems are inevitably in the future? Do you think dystopian systems the way they are displayed in movies could never sustain in the real world? Let me know in the comments or dm me your thoughts!

- Ámaris Wen

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