Note — May 17, 2020

The Screen New Deal

Over the last few weeks, when including articles about the post-current-situation, I’ve mostly focused on visions I find positive and promising. Now on the opposite side, through the fiery writing of Naomi Klein, we get a closer look at the “Screen New Deal” where New York state, under the guise of virus protection, is buying into Eric Schmidt’s vision of cranking the Silicon Valley tech to eleven; AI-ing all the things, delivering all the things, making everything digital (entertainment, health, education, work) or shipped in a box delivered by underpaid, under protected, hyper exploited workers. Schmidt has been using his chairing of two boards on AI to push his goal of addressing “the national and economic security needs of the United States, including economic risk” by promoting a fear of Chinese AI policies and industry to push an increasing “Bigtechification” in NY and elsewhere. In the past couple of months, he has switched the focus of his fear mongering from China to Corona.

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 hyperexploition. […]

At the heart of this vision is seamless integration of government with a handful of Silicon Valley giants — with public schools, hospitals, doctor’s offices, police, and military all outsourcing (at a high cost) many of their core functions to private tech companies. […]

[Schmidt’s NSCAI] presentation touts China’s “Explicit government support and involvement e.g. facial recognition deployment.” It argues that “surveillance is one of the ‘first-and-best customers’ for Al” and further, that “mass surveillance is a killer application for deep learning.” […]

To be clear, technology is most certainly a key part of how we must protect public health in the coming months and years. The question is: Will that technology be subject to the disciplines of democracy and public oversight, or will it be rolled out in state-of-exception frenzy, without asking critical questions that will shape our lives for decades to come?