In its pursuit of creating a perfectly controlled society, China has been implementing its Skynet surveillance system across the country, where people will be monitored 24-7 through a network of millions of cameras. And although the government might succeed in implementing its ideal of total social control, it will eventually kill the spirit of the Chinese people in the process.
Control through shame
China started setting up the Skynet surveillance system in 2005. In 2015, it achieved 100 percent coverage of the capital city Beijing. As per estimates, China will have close to 300 million CCTV cameras covering the country by 2020.
The system is equipped with all the latest technologies, including facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and GPS tracking. While Skynet exists to capture criminals, it is also being used to emotionally control the public.
The surveillance network allows Beijing to exert control over the population through a very potent emotion — shame. When police were unable to control the incidents of jaywalking or speeding at a few intersections, they resorted to using Skynet.
The system captured images of people who had committed such incidents. The police then put up a large display screen at these intersections and started displaying information about people who had sped up or jaywalked. Details like photos, names, and government IDs were published on the large outdoor screen.
Police soon found that their new policy led to a massive drop in incidents of speeding or jaywalking. The reason – people were afraid that their neighbors and colleagues would see their picture if they did any such thing. And because of this fear of being shamed in front of the people they knew, the public started controlling their own behavior.
While the government has installed thousands of cameras as a part of the surveillance network, a few of them malfunction every now and then, which means that no video or image will be captured during this timeframe. However, the knowledge that a camera may not be working still fails to incentivize people to break rules and jaywalk or speed up.
“The whole point is that people don’t know if they’re being monitored. And that uncertainty makes people more obedient,” Vanity Fair quotes Martin Chorzempa from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
What the future holds
China will only keep adding to its existing surveillance network and is not at all likely to cut back on it. After all, it is an authoritarian government that rules with an iron hand. And since such repressive regimes can only exist by crushing down the people who would speak against them, the communist government will definitely continue with making surveillance even more widespread and comprehensive.
However, there is a huge drawback to creating such a society — fear and blind obedience. The Chinese government is essentially setting up the society in such a way that people are trained, right from birth, to be afraid of being exposed by public cameras or being caught doing anything immoral or shady. Eventually, such a society will largely create extremely obedient and fearful people who will be paranoid most of the time.
While this will likely result in serious psychological issues, a greater problem would be that people will lose their adventurous, exploratory behaviors due to such paranoia and distrust of everything. By trying to control everyone, the Chinese government will end up with a generation of people who will be completely dependent on the instructions of a central authority to live their lives, losing their individuality and pride in the process.