Eye in the Skynet

How Regimes Can Quell Social Movements Before they Begin

A Chinese Internet user browses for information using Google search engine, in Beijing January 25, 2010. The Chinese characters in the middle line read: "according to local laws and regulations, some results cannot be shown." Reuters

Dictators constantly face a dilemma: crushing dissent to terrify (but anger) the populace or tolerating protests and offering reforms to keep the public at bay (but embolden dissidents in the process). Instead of relying on gut instinct, experience, or historical precedent, autocrats now have advances in data analytics and ubiquitous passive data to thank for letting them develop new, scientifically validated methods of repression. By analyzing the dynamics of resistance with a depth previously impossible, autocrats can preemptively crush dissent more reliably and carefully.

With machine learning and social network analysis, dictators can identify future troublemakers far more efficiently than through human intuition alone. Predictive technologies have outperformed their human counterparts: a project from Telenor Research and MIT Media Lab used machine-learning techniques to develop an algorithm for targeted marketing, pitting their algorithm against a team of topflight marketers from a large Asian telecom firm. The algorithm used a combination

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