Inside China’s High-Tech Dystopia

There’s no disputing that Shenzhen has become one of the most important places in the world of tech. Nowhere else has quite as potent a combination of tech know-how, cheap manufacturing costs, and sheer speed. But it goes further than that. Living in Shenzhen is in many ways like living in the future. And not necessarily a utopian future. More like the other kind. Consider Zowee. Zowee operates a factory much like any other in Shenzhen. They make cheap smartphones and other electronics. Like other top manufacturers, they’ve built a complex where workers can live right beside the factory line, work around the clock for a couple of years, and hopefully buy a better life for their families back home. The factories here are clean, and the work is precise. But things are changing quickly in a way that does not favor the common man and woman. All the rest of these lines are staffed by about 80 people, but right here there are new machines coming online that are going to build a smartphone end-to-end completely by robots. The end goal of something like this is to get the quality of the products higher, to bring costs down from less labor, and ultimately to keep China as the manufacturing hub of the world and fend off low-priced competition from places like Southeast Asia. The factory of the future looks like this. It’s a closed off loop where robots pass components among each other, and finished products pop out at the end. All those workers have been replaced by one lonely final inspector. It’s a strong sign that the future of Shenzhen is less for these guys… …and more for these guys. Zowee actually builds these automation machines itself. Behind me are some of China’s best and brightest engineers, hard at work building the machines you see out on the floor today, and the ones that are coming tomorrow that are going to automate the entire factory line. Nowhere will face more turmoil than Shenzhen as the robots rise and send millions of workers to the unemployment line. But it’s not just the working class that’s facing a dark future. There are dystopian innovations that seem to touch every facet of life here. I ran into one example of this while attempting to rehydrate. After some investigation, I discover what’s going on here, and it has to do with these things: QR codes. You know the drill. You scan the code and something pops up on your phone, like a promotion or discount. America laughed these things off years ago, but here, they run the entire economy. Cash and credit cards are history. Instead you scan QR codes to pay for everything: restaurants, groceries, even buskers. On the surface this is all good. It’s the easy, convenient mobile payment system of the future. But there’s also a dark side. The Chinese government can peer into the two dominant payment systems, AliPay and WeChat, as it sees fit. It’s already started tracking behavior as part of a plan to rank citizens and measure how good and obedient they are. The tech revolution may have brought prosperity to Shenzhen but it’s also brought more and more insidious intrusions into people’s lives. To dig deeper into life under the Chinese deep state, I’ve assembled a team of extraordinary foreigners who work at tech startups in Shenzhen. Hopefully a few beers will encourage them to open up about their thought crimes. Living in a very tightly regulated Communist country – does that bother you, or you don’t care? The presumption at least that I got before I came from Australia was sort of like moving into a sort of like a militarized state, like things are going to be really intense. But like, you take a beer, just like walk down the road, hang out in the park, fine. Do that back in my hometown in Australia, like, straight to the cop-house. But then, play spikeball on the grass, and then all of a sudden the cops come and stop you. Well and you got, you jaywalked and you had facial recognition? I actually got this. So I was jaywalking in Nanxian. And all of a sudden I got a fine to my WeChat. Was it instant? It was about 20 seconds after, I guess. I had money in my balance and it just went straight out. This is just for the one thing – it just came straight out. Didn’t even authorize it. That’s crazy. It’s true. Try to jaywalk in certain parts of Shenzhen, and the government’s facial recognition will spot you. There’s even a board of shame, showing the faces of recent offenders. I’m surprised and very very worried that they have your face in the facial recognition – like, the facial recognition system. But they have everyone’s though. When you go across the border they take that picture, exactly, yeah. So it’s all in the system, they know where you are. That’s scary. It gets even scarier. Because big brother is watching what you do online too. Most of the websites we know and love are blocked in China, replaced with Chinese equivalents that the government can monitor: a sort of mirror universe internet. I asked my friend Diane, a Shenzhen native, to help break this down. Appropriately enough, she took me to this restaurant staffed entirely by robots. That’s some gnarly-looking chicken. Is that chicken? Mmm… robot food. I wanted you to help you out with one thing. So if I sorta call out a U.S. tech company, can you tell me the Chinese equivalent? Because you know, you can’t get Instagram or anything here, so. Let’s do a few. So Google would be… Baidu. And Amazon… is like, both and also Taobao OK. And, and, um. YouTube? Youqu. Youqu, Iqiyi. Facebook? Facebook we have WeChat. Yeah. Do you feel like you’re in a different universe? All the online stuff is such a big part of all our lives. And it seems like China has created its own world. Yeah, that’s definitely like that. But like I said, for for like Instagram, I was surprised to see even – Instagram got banned from China, but all the young people, they’re there. Still go. Yeah. It turns out it is possible to access the freedom-loving internet here, via what’s called a VPN: an alternate internet connection that bypasses the government’s blocks. And you don’t get in trouble if they see that you’re on the VPN all the time? For personal use, I don’t think that’s that big of a deal, yeah. The future will be interesting for how the different worlds are collaborating together. Yeah, and definitely the young generation, they’re not like just, oh, I’m satisfied just to kind of stay inside. Yeah, they’re more curious. I came to Shenzhen hoping to find some kind of ground truth, a clear picture of what China’s growing tech prowess will mean for the rest of us. Honestly though, I’m as confused as ever. The city is full of energy, desire and creativity. But exactly how those traits are channeled in the years ahead remains an open question. My hope is that the best parts of our human nature get a chance to thrive, and that 1984 can wait a few more decades to arrive. And on that note, I leave you with this dashboard dog. Because it’s obviously good and pure and very happy.

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65 thoughts on “Inside China’s High-Tech Dystopia

  1. talk about Google and facebook how they work whit CIA and still all data every camera in US take same face recog just you don't talk about that it's all about make China scary this China scare nothing new start when Chinese come to America make railroad

  2. Bloomberg doing propaganda and in a quite hypocritical way. it's like Atlantic Council telling FB who to sensor wasn't in step with the US gov. The back-door that the NSA told Microsoft to leave for them. Just a few years ago, the US gov telling Apple to give them encryption keys so they can sneak into people's phones. Not to mention, the CIA "Vault 7". The tools used to infect all Samsung TVs world wide for US spying.

  3. All governments monitor and breach their citizens privacy. China is just honest and open about what they are doing.

    ПЕРВАЯ ЧАСТЬ ФИЛЬМА О ГРАНДИОЗНЫХ ИЗМЕНЕНИЯХ В ТЕХНОЛОГИЯХ, ЗАМЕНЯЮЩИХ МИЛЛИОНЫ РАБОЧИХ МЕСТ РОБОТАМИ, К НАМ МАЛО ОТНОСИТСЯ – В китайском городе ЧЕНЬ ДЖЕННЕ ГИГАНТСКИЕ ПРЕДПРИЯТИЯ, ПРОИЗВОДЯЩИЕ ЭЛЕКТРОНИКУ, СТАНОВЯТСЯ ВСЁ БОЛЕЕ БЕЗЛЮДНЫМИ… Но наша перестройка ликвидировала практически все производственные гиганты, а эра путинского правления добила оставшиеся порядка 70 000 предприятий. Так что роботизировать фактически нечего. Зато осталось ещё население, которое можно загнать в электронный концлагерь полного подчинения и безмолвия под неусыпным оком власти ВВ – Big Brother.
    Китайское правительство осуществило мечту Грефа, оставив две основных платёжных систем – Alipay и WeChat.
    Обе системы начали сканирование поведения людей. Австралийца говорят. что после некоторого пребывания в Чень Дженне они за 20 секунд нашли свой профиль на WeChat, на котором они не регистрировались, но который взял их на заметку. Парень объясняет, что вы попадаете в систему и система знает, где ты находишься и что делаешь. Второй замечает – это пугает!
    Автор посещает с китайской знакомой ресторан, где подавальщиком в окошке является робот. Разговор о том, что молодые китайцы учатся сейчас обходить правительственные ловушки и запреты, создают собственный "теневой высокоскоростной интернет".

  5. jaywalking and being fined straightforward from the account??? At least, it never happens to me// dude, you are a great actor。。。 arent you ?

  6. 2:24 A FEW GET RICHER (the rest of china, most, will remain in their third world town without any single skyscrapper)
    4:59 EXTINCT (in the near future)

    9:21: NOPE

  7. Everything u call dark ! It’s only cuz they are not our outlets , face book is compromised
    Googles is the government now ! So u don’t like how they are becoming independent!
    This is so hypocritical

  8. Technology does define the future and prosperity will favor less big brother nations. Although China has the greatest technology it uses it to over police it’s citizens. Perhaps just another form of wealthy communism which will in the long run stump their economy. Same goes for Russia. It’s the war of Communism vs Democracy taking a new form.

  9. These young western cocksuckers are mercenaries for the Communist party. Aiding in the oppression of the Chinese people. This Dystopian nightmare will be coming to America as long as the millennial cocksuckers are so shortsighted in how they accept so much in the name of convenience.

  10. Look into history and understand :- Chinese Politburu days are numbered …People always have and always will want to have the right to choose the leaders that decide and make the laws by which they live.

  11. Well if China is really that High-Tech enough to become a dystopia I would be more than happy since we can probably solve the poverty problem with it.

  12. 同胞们就不能低调谦虚一点吗?中国现在大而不强,还有很多路要走呢,别真的觉得自己现在就是老大了,闷声发大财韬光养晦不懂吗,你们这样吹捧战忽局很难做哦

  13. Why doesn’t YouTube inform its viewers that their Holding company Alphabet but more specifically Google which has refused to assist the Pentagon and/or US military and US federal government but is developing a censored web browser for the Chinese communist government, as well as working on the AI system which may one day dominant the Globe for this tyrannical Communist Regime currently crushing any decent by attacking protestors in Hong Kong who only want Liberty!!!

  14. 6:30 "Big brother is watching you online"

    Welcome to any state with internet infastructure. You are always watched with DPI systems and things like that. It does not matter wherever you are; USA, UK, Germany,Saudi Arabia, France, Israil, Turkey, China! At least they are doing it openly.

  15. You said ' all those workers have been replaced by one longly final inspector.' that reminds me of the auto industry in the US, sweet, the union protects technicians and they do not lose jobs, let me tell you this, a better way is to remove every machine away from factories, creating more jobs and increasing the employment rate.

  16. Its funny really. Technologies advance is what lead to alot of the rise in liberty in the past. Now the tech of the future seems to favor despots and totalitarians.

  17. This man sucks and he doesn't even know how we Chinese people pay in a far more convenient way. Please don't judge something that you can't even understand!

  18. Intrusions get out here you joudnalist reporter you suck always with your bias and filthy corrupt media speak about your countey not china you make me throw up

  19. Wow, Shenzhen looks amazing. I would love to go there sometime. Looks safe and peaceful. I hope I don't get in trouble for getting on Instagram though haha I can't live without it and youtube.

  20. To be honest I didn’t see this as dystopian I saw more as the government in control not in a way to suppress freedom in a way to have order and civility.

    Edit: “The surveillance” is not something new every government has it China is more open about it.

  21. China doesn’t have over 165000 military personnel in over 150 countries. I’m not worried about Chinese facial recognition

  22. Waiting for 1984 to arrive? Lets hope it stays in the Fiction section along with Animal farm and Brave New World, as a reminder to Wo/ManKind of what we should avoid if we aim to stay liberated beings.

  23. I mean, I don't get it, what is the problem of being face recognized? You walk on the street your face is been watched by others anyway. If you don't want to pay the penalty for jaywalking, then, stop jaywalking! This video is so biased.

  24. Sweet sauerkraut attitude of the stupid journalist if he is even one. Did he notice no beggars or druggies in pavements of China?

  25. Apparently, this guy does NOT have knowledge that Harvard PEW Research conducted a study which indicates that 85% of Chinese citizens are happy with their government and with the direction the country is heading.

    A typical American 😂😂😂

  26. Actually VPNs stop working in politically sensitive areas (think Beijing).
    Chinese software developers all use Shadowsocks.

  27. Cashless societies are not to be celebrated.
    Go to wrong protest piss off wrong guy read wrong information service and they will turn your life upside down you won’t be even able to buy food.
    And if it’s not bad now just wait till government changes rouge.

  28. What do you mean silicon valley you can't compare this with silicon valley this is more modern saffostecated, complex and well organized, dawn to earth people most of all humanly

  29. China is the Beast. Why is America not more aggressively countering this monolithic aggressive evil Communist dystopian empire?

  30. And it is fine when VISA and MASTERCARD, GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK AND every other AMERICAN companny can track your behaviour?

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