The DemTech team was proudly represented at the 2022 Surveillance and Society Annual Conference by Yung Au, who participated in a panel dedicated to exploring Technological Imaginaries. During the panel, Yung presented a paper entitled “Selling an Imaginary: The Fantasy of Machine Guardians”.
This paper explores the socio-technical imaginaries of AI-assisted surveillance that corporations sell to governments. In particular, it focuses on a handful of western companies that exports surveillance-as-a-service to territories in the majority world. What is included in the remit of AI-assisted surveillance is vast with countless grey areas yet recurring similarities exists in an otherwise patchwork landscape. In our rush to equip governments with the latest gait recognition systems and lie detection devices, we overlook the need to interrogate the impossible ideals that are shaping policing in various ways: what imaginaries are smoothing over potentially devastating kinks of these often under-developed systems? And what imaginaries are being exported along colonial and imperialist lines? Corporate entities have immense agenda-setting powers in shaping the supply but also the demand of government surveillance systems. They are able to give form to what is and is not possible through selling ideas, promises, and terminologies that obscure more than they reveal – much like how “cloud,” “platform” and “AI” are able to mean simultaneously so much yet so little. There is an urgent need to excavate how these fantasies of machine guardians and biometric gatekeepers, coloured in metallic silver and electric blue, are carefully packaged, embellished, sold and deployed.
You can see the conference program here.