‘Big Brother’: AI pioneer fears China’s use of technology for surveillance and control

A computer scientist who is known as a pioneer in artificial intelligence is sounding the alarm about its potential for misuse by China — joining privacy advocates and technologists who have expressed similar concerns.

Yoshua Bengio, a Canadian computer scientist and co-founder of Montreal-based AI software company Element AI, said he was fearful about the technology being deployed to surveil and control people.

“This is the ‘1984’ Big Brother scenario,” he told Bloomberg in an interview, referencing George Orwell’s dystopian novel that was published in 1949. “I think it’s becoming more and more scary.”

Bengio, a professor at the University of Montreal, is considered a leading thinker in the AI space because of his work in deep learning.

China’s communist government has already begun using closed-circuit cameras and facial recognition to surveil its citizens in public spaces, according to Bloomberg. China also created an app that allows people to know whether they are near someone who is in debt, and it reportedly rolled out a National Credit Information Sharing Platform that is reportedly being used to blacklist rail and air passengers for “anti-social” behavior.

“The use of your face to track you should be highly regulated,” Bengio told Bloomberg.

Although Bengio also said that there are many ways technological advances can be used for good, he cautioned that governments need to be smart about mitigating the potential risks of AI and robotics, which could displace a huge percentage of the world’s workers in the coming decades.

“Technology, as it gets more powerful, outside of other influences, just leads to more concentration of power and wealth,” he told Bloomberg. “That is bad for democracy, that is bad for social justice, and the general well-being of most people.”

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