onsdag 22. september 2021

Opportunity and anxiety at the center of China’s surveillance industry

For decades, Anhui province’s development has lagged behind surrounding provinces. As nearby regions like Shanghai and Zhejiang have become centers for finance and business, large parts of Anhui still rely on agriculture and steel production, much as they did 50 years ago.

Yet the inland province is now an unlikely pacesetter in China’s drive to dominate artificial intelligence. Massive advanced technology investment is fueling economic growth. At the same time, companies that receive these investments are helping turn Anhui’s residents into test subjects for a government surveillance system that publicly names and shames troublemakers — even those running behind on their mortgage repayments.

For many of the students in the province’s prestigious STEM universities, who will be the next generation of AI pioneers, this shift has brought newfound prosperity and job opportunities. But for others in the same classrooms, the rising application of these AI advances for surveillance and policing is causing fear and anxiety. Some feel a growing awareness of the dangers of surveillance, which they see appearing around them.

Understanding what’s happening in Anhui is essential for illuminating the social and political dynamics of the tech-enabled growth spreading throughout China, and the ways these shifts interact with the nation’s young people.