The World Economic Forum has just wrapped up its annual Davos meeting. Five years ago, most of us were happy to ignore this elite confab, but since then, we’ve found that this exclusive club wields a lot of power. Looking at what they have planned is, unfortunately, a good way to assess what a lot of us will be dealing with in terms of laws and government agendas.
Large amounts of material have been posted to their website in the past few days. There are lots of new articles as well as interviews. Wading through, you see project updates on areas they’ve already been working on for some time.
Climate change, vaccines, and digitalization
As expected, the WEF plans to double down on climate change, calling it “the greatest challenge of our time.” They don’t plan to back off from getting rid of fossil fuels, despite the fact that our electrical grids are not remotely prepared for this sort of energy transition.
They’re also planning for more pandemics and producing more vaccines even faster. Nowhere is there any mention of problems with the most recent round of vaccines, or any addressing of death rates for working-age people far above historical levels.
And then there’s the “polycrisis”
But there’s plenty of new information too. Their new buzzword for this year was “polycrisis,” which they define as a situation in which multiple crises compound one another.
And you know what? It’s a good word. I think I’ll use it. But I’m not sure the WEF and I will use it in the same way.
I’d like to focus on a few key developments that I think are quickly turning into a polycrisis for those of us still in love with the principles of the Founding Fathers. Advanced data collection and AI capabilities, the proliferation of public/private partnerships, and the criminalization of speech may all come together to form a polycrisis for freedom lovers.
The progress that’s been made with data collection and AI has been astounding. From farming to healthcare to law enforcement, the WEF wants chatbots and mass data collection throughout all of it.
And before I get accused of being a total Luddite, I admit that some of this technology can be useful. For example, the ability of Indian farmers to remotely detect leaks in irrigation systems will absolutely save lots of time and money.
But why, as the WEF proposes, do those same farmers need chatbots to relay messages? I’m pretty sure any Indian with a cell phone can read text messages. Or listen to a voicemail. The chatbot seems superfluous.
Likewise, chatbots are being used in Rwanda for healthcare assessments. If groups like the WEF have enough money to develop and then deploy robots to places like Rwanda, why do they not have enough money to simply train motivated Rwandans? Again, I think the chatbots are superfluous, but nobody at the WEF ever asks me about these things.
I suspect there are many reasons behind this love affair with chatbots, but a big one is the data collection factor. When you have chatbots moderating all kinds of interactions between people, you have records of everything people say and do, even the faces they make during discussions; it becomes much easier to crush dissent.
And this is already happening.
Most readers here already know about China’s social credit system, enforced by security cameras and a robust facial recognition database. But this is coming up elsewhere, too. Both India and Israel used data collection systems to enforce compliance with quarantines during lockdowns. We Americans know that our own government bought cell phone data to monitor our compliance during lockdowns. India actually even used their facial recognition systems to enforce mask-wearing, fining people up to $25 (a crippling sum of money for many Indians) for not wearing, or incorrectly wearing, their masks.
A key thing to realize about many poorer countries, like India, is that they are utterly dependent on wealthier countries for any kind of financing for domestic projects. As you can imagine, Indian citizens were furious about the mass surveillance during lockdowns; but when confronted about it, government representatives said that it was absolutely necessary to keep foreign investors in the country.
I’ve been used to the thought of robots taking over blue-collar jobs, but I was surprised at how much progress has already been made in training robots to take over white-collar jobs, as well. DALL-E can search the web for images and use them to create new ones based on language prompts. ChatGPT can create text and code based on written prompts from users. DeepMind’s AlphaCode algorithm beats 72% of human coders in competitions. And the newest agent, Gato, can do many of these functions reasonably well. (source)
In the panel session “AI and White Collar Jobs,” industry leaders discussed how AI technology has progressed faster than they thought, as well. It’s just a matter of time before various bots become more widely used throughout the professional world.
I’m always pleasantly surprised at anything like candor during these discussions. Stanford AI expert Erik Brynjolfsson did not disappoint when he said, at 19:00, that these robots did not understand truth at all. At 28:00 he explains further, saying, “We’re all going to be flooded, shortly, with enormous amounts of incoming tweets, posts, texts, press releases, etc. that are bot-generated, and it’s going to be a flood of sometimes very interesting information, sometimes completely made-up, false information, and we have to find a way to navigate that. . . . We’re going to have to come up with some control mechanisms to sort that out, going forward, very shortly.”
Indeed. As though it isn’t hard enough already to sort truth from fiction.
And this brings me to my second component of the potential freedom polycrisis, the level of public/private partnership. Again, this is something most of us have been aware of, but references to various public-private partnerships are everywhere on the WEF website and in its publications.
When you look at a marriage of power between big government and big business, and then add the vastly increased technological possibilities, we see opportunities for stifling dissent that the worst dictators of the past could only dream about.
Governments around the world are embracing this. For example, during the speech given by the President of South Korea, he discussed their new Digital Bill of Rights, which will marry their government-owned data to their private sector services https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/01/davos-2023-special-address-by-yoon-suk-yeol-president-of-the-republic-of-korea/ Nothing will be private.
This closely dovetails with another component of the freedom polycrisis, the criminalization of speech. Canada’s disregard for free speech has been in the news frequently, from punishing trucker protests to threatening former professor and popular YouTuber Dr. Jordan Peterson with the revocation of his professional license.
But Canada is hardly alone. During Brian Stelter’s panel on “The Clear and Present Danger of Disinformation,” Czech leader Vera Jourova referred to illegal hate speech “which you will soon have in the U.S.” (31:34).
Jourova may not be aware of the specific details, but there is a bill in Congress now, H.R. 61, introduced by Texas Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, that would fall into this category. It’s the Leading Against White Supremacy Act of 2023, and while prevention of violent acts against any citizen is a good thing, this bill is so wide-reaching in its definition of “hate speech” that if it passes, it will just be another way to criminally prosecute anyone with dissenting political opinions.
If you want more details, I encourage you to take a look at the bill here or if you want, listen to Glenn Greenwald’s analysis here. The bill is not considered likely to pass during this session of Congress, but things change. We need to be paying attention.
The ability to discern truth from fiction has only gotten more difficult. Over the past ten years, we’ve seen a plethora of stories about Russian propaganda. Hunter Biden’s laptop? Oh that’s Russian propaganda. Donald Trump winning the 2016 election? Blame Russian propaganda. It is widely acknowledged, at this point, that Hunter really is a crackhead and Trump really won the 2016 election. But the damage was done; millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted investigating Russiagate and Hunter Biden, somehow, is still not in jail.
Worse, the “Russian propaganda” smear is used to discredit websites that are actually pretty good sources of news. In February 2022, U.S. intelligence agencies accused ZeroHedge of being influenced by Russian actors It’s just silly; of all the websites out there, ZeroHedge is mostly financial, and most of the contributors are not full-time journalists but well-known professionals in other fields that just happen to write on the side. But ZeroHedge does present a motley crew of unorthodox commentators, and so they are a political target.
The most effective lies are the ones that are partly true, and if, as Dr. Brynjolfsson predicts, we are about to get flooded with messages from bots, then it will become that much more difficult to sort the truth from the lies. It will be easier for establishment power to insist upon ever-more stringent speech controls because all of us will be, in truth, drowning in information.
The hubris of those “in charge”
Twenty years ago, my young adult self would have looked at what’s going on and thought, yep, we sure need some good regulations here. The smart people are in charge; they’ll figure this out.
Today, my middle-aged self only needs to watch two minutes of John Kerry talk about how he is one of the select group of people, the masters of the universe, who are “almost extraterrestrial,” (7:00) to know that the people in charge may be smart, but they are absolutely not wise or benevolent. The hubris from these billionaires who want us to eat bugs and live in digital prisons – oops, I mean 15-minute cities – while they jet around the world is absolutely unbelievable.
Is it still a conspiracy theory if these people themselves admit they want a new world order? They don’t hide the fact that their plans may involve “injustices for some,” but expect the rest of us to suck it up for the greater good. Their greater good. Not ours.
But there are always some reasons for hope.
However, as bad as this all sounds, I do think there are reasons for hope. In many of the discussion panels and articles, WEF participants complained about polarization, and how they just can’t get regular people on board with their ideas.
Grand plans such as the ones put forth by the WEF never come to fruition exactly the way the architects envisioned. A sizeable portion of the plebians have proven harder to push around than they expected, and more willing to talk to each other and share stories.
Continuing to connect with people in real life will become all the more important, as online information gets harder and harder to verify. Finding a few good online communities, like this one, that have been around for some years and are run by real humans, will also become more meaningful.
I may not agree with the WEF on the exact nature of the polycrisis we face (or who’s primarily to blame), but I think most of us can agree the next year will bring a variety of challenges.
Our best path of resistance, moving forward, may be simply to continue doing what many of us have already been doing: learning how to do more with less, increasing our food self-sufficiency, trying to do as much business as we can locally, pursuing skills to help us be producers rather than only consumers, and above all strengthening our ties with family and friends.
What are your thoughts?
What stood out to you the most about the plans of the folks in Davos? What are your biggest concerns going forward? What’s your opinion about the WEF and its manipulations of society? Let’s discuss it in the comments.
About Marie Hawthorne
A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.