With Low-Tech against Digital Mass Surveillance

The resistance movement in Hong Kong uses different means of defence, communication and information. This is reported by the German news portal Heise on 1 September 2019. Demonstrators direct laser beams at the video cams, which are installed everywhere, not least in intelligent street lamps. The pointers are intended to interfere with the facial recognition systems used by the police to analyse some of the video streams. On television, one could see how the civil rights activists were able to use chain saws and ropes to bring down the high-tech street lights. Services such as Telegram and Firechat are used for communication and coordination. According to Quartz, “Hong Kong’s protesters are using AirDrop, a file-sharing feature that allows Apple devices to send photos and videos over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, to breach China’s Great Firewall in order to spread information to mainland Chinese visitors in the city” (Quartz, 8 July 2019). You could read on a digital sticker distributed by AirDrop at subway stations: “Don’t wait until [freedom] is gone to regret its loss. Freedom isn’t god-given; it is fought for by the people.” (Quartz, 8 July 2019)

The Resurrection of Dead Authors

lyrikline.org is an interesting and touching project. The writers themselves read their works. You can listen to Ingeborg Bachmann as well as Paul Celan. Spoken literature has been booming in Europe and the USA for about 15 years. The Chinese discovered audio books some time ago. Basically it is time-consuming and expensive to produce such books professionally. Moreover, the authors are not always available. The Chinese search engine Sogou wants to solve this problem with the help of visualization technology and artificial intelligence. It creates avatars of the authors who speak with the voice of the authors. “At the China Online Literature+ conference, the company announced that the first two authors to receive this avatar treatment will be Yue Guan and Bu Xin Tian Shang Diao Xian Bing … If these first AI author avatars are well-received, others could follow – and that could just be the jumping-off point. A company could produce book readings by deceased authors, for example, as long as enough audio and video footage exists. Eventually, they could even incorporate hologram technology to really give bibliophiles the feeling of being at their favorite author’s reading.” (futurism.com, 15 August 2019) So you could have Ingeborg Bachmann or Charles Bukowski read all of their own texts and watch them, many years after their death. Whether the results really sound like the originals, whether they influence us just as emotionally, can be doubted. But there is no doubt that this is an exciting project.

China’s Brain Drain

“China’s AI talent base is growing, and then leaving” – this is what Joy Dantong Ma writes in an article with the same title. Artificial intelligence is promoted in the People’s Republic in various ways. Money is invested in technologies, institutions, and people. “China has been successful in producing AI talent, evidenced by the rapid growth of AI human capital over the last decade.” (MacroPolo, 30 July 2019) This seems to be good news for the country in the Far East. But the study to which the article refers comes to a different conclusion. While “Beijing has cultivated an army of top AI talent, well over half of that talent eventually ended up in America rather than getting hired by domestic companies and institutions”. “That’s because most of the government resources went into expanding the talent base rather than creating incentives and an environment in which they stay.” (MacroPolo, 30 July 2019) According to Joy Dantong Ma, Beijing seems to have recognized its failure in retaining talent. “The well-known New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, released in 2017, vowed to lure top-notch AI scientists in neural network, machine learning, self-driving cars, and intelligent robotics by opening up special channels and offering up competitive compensation packages. Still, it’s not clear that Beijing will be able to reverse the Chinese AI brains from draining to its biggest competitor, the United States.” (MacroPolo, 30 July 2019) Does the USA even want the talents? That is anything but clear in these times.