Big tech, China, and the new age of activism: A conversation with Zeynep Tufekci and Alec Ross

Experts visit JHU to discuss the complex intersection of technology and democracy at event hosted by Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute

For a sense of where technology may be taking us, many social commentators are looking to present-day China, where surveillance cameras line the streets, facial recognition scanners help catch criminals, and the government is assigning each individual a “social credit score” to rate their trustworthiness.

To Americans, that may sound like “Black Mirror on Steroids,” as one Forbes article puts it, but technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci warns that it’s not a just a distant dystopia.

“I think people should take China really seriously, because we’re building the same infrastructure here,” Tufekci said during a discussion Thursday evening at Johns Hopkins University. Although the West typically reserves such advanced tech tools for advertising, she said, “China is showing us how tech can be used in this kind of [surveillance] setting.”

Fellow panelist Alec Ross, author of the 2016 bestseller The Industries of The Future, illustrated how these technologies in China function as tools of oppression.

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