Monday, April 27, 2020

The New Dystopia

The government is always watching you.
And the people too.
Today, mass surveillance is a way of life. CCTVs, government censors, smartphones, smart home appliances, everything with an Internet connection and data collection capability is silently watching and recording you. China is rolling out a social credit system; if it succeeds, other countries will follow suit.
The world of Singularity Sunrise takes these technologies and extrapolates them into the far future.

In the China of tomorrow, citizenship is a matter of points and privileges. A next-generation citizenship score controls every facet of life. Home ownership, loans, jobs, travel, government services, access to essential goods and serviced is controlled by the system. Citizens with high scores enjoy priority and privileges; citizens with low or negative scores are condemned to the slums, ghettos and prisons. Fall far enough and you'll be treated as a non-person.
Everywhere you go in China, somebody is watching. There is a camera on every street, a policeman around every corner, a drone on every rooftop, a microphone in every room. The censors monitor all broadcasts, online and offline, and kill anything that opposes the party line. Simply looking at unapproved content is grounds for demerits and punishment.
Being a citizen is easy. You need merely praise the People, the Party and the State and perform pro-social activities into perpetuity. Losing your citizenship is even easier. You need only attract the attention of the authorities. You don't even need to be guilty.
And if you don't want to lose your citizenship points, you'd better find someone else you can monitor and snitch on.
But this isn't enough for China. This system is imperfect, with gaps in its coverage, and still reliant on humans. The Party dreams of a perfect machine to rule the Chinese sphere of influence, an omnipotent digital dictator, an electronic emperor that stands above mere humanity as a silicon god.
What about the West? What happened to the ideals of privacy, freedom and small government?
Big Government is always watching. Your neighbours are always watching. Your devices are always watching. Every moment of the day, dozens of computers and cameras and sensors record every facet of your behaviour, on the street or at home. In place of state surveillance there is sousveillance: everyone watches everyone else. The only difference is that there isn't a single organized net of cameras and street sensors. But there isn't a need for one.
That information is available to the authorities, to the highest bidder, or to skilled hackers. A well-resourced actor with the ability to gather information across a wide spectrum of devices can track you wherever you go, online and offline. There may be legal and ethical safeguards against wanton abuse, but so long as the machines remain, the capability remains.
The world of tomorrow brings Big Data and Big Tech in an unholy marriage. Every modern country is a panopticon, every city a prison in waiting. To escape the unblinking eye of the surveillance state, your only option is to go off-grid. But in an increasingly connected world, it marks you as an outcast .
This world of constant surveillance eliminates the cyberpunk trope of crews of shadowrunners and elite mercenaries hanging around every street corner. Everybody is watching, and every activity will be seen. Low-profile actions, from social engineering to surveillance to black bag jobs, are fraught with risk. High-profile actions like raids and assassinations will be seen, recorded, and remembered into perpetuity.
If you are detected, you can never return. Facial recognition and brainwave recording at all ports of entry provide fuss-free methods of identification. Gait recognition ensures that even if a criminal hides his face, he can still be spotted on the street. Wireless tracking, millimeter wave radar, dust-size sensors, and omnipresent cameras and sensors ensure that there is no way to hide.
Every member on every crew is one-use-only. When detected during a major job, whether he succeeds or not, he can't return to the country. Not without changing his brainwaves, his face, his gait -- and, if flesh-and-blood, his DNA. There are tools and technologies for that, of course, but they are out of the reach of freelancers and independent criminals.
You can't stay freelance forever. To survive, a freelancer must pick a side -- or one will be picked for you.
In such a perfect dystopia, how do you carry out a shadow war to decide the fate of humanity? How do you penetrate the most restrictive non-permissive environments in the history of humanity and get out clean? How do you engineer a rebellion against an electronic emperor?
Find out in Singularity Sunrise!
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