Singapore’s Tech-utopia Dream is Turning Into a Surveillance State Nightmare

In the "smart nation," robot dogs enforce social distancing and flying taxis are just over the horizon. The reality is very different. From a report: Singapore is often rendered as an aspiring techno-utopia. In World Economic Forum videos, in-flight magazines and its own pliant state-backed media, it offers a soft-focus science fiction backdrop where driverless buses ply routes between beach clubs and tech hubs, where robot dogs enforce social distancing and flying taxis flit between glass-fronted public housing overflowing with lush "sky gardens." It's a place where pilot projects hint at a future -- just over the horizon -- where the intractable problems of today are automated out of existence. Where vertical farms and "NEWater" made from treated sewage cut the island's reliance on neighbouring Malaysia for food and water. Where robots care for the elderly and drones service freighters. Where warehouses and construction sites are staffed by machines, obviating the need for the migrant workers who make Singapore function, but make Singaporeans uncomfortable. Technology keeps them safe, fed and independent; secure in a scary world, but connected to it through telecoms and air travel. That safety requires constant vigilance. The city must be watched. The smart cameras that are being trialled in Changi are just a part of a nationwide thrust towards treating surveillance as part of everyday life. Ninety-thousand police cameras watch the streets, and by the end of the decade, there will be 200,000. Sensors, including facial recognition cameras and crowd analytics systems, are being positioned across the city. The technology alone isn't unique -- it's used in many countries. But Singapore's ruling party sees dangers everywhere, and seems increasingly willing to peer individually and en masse into people's lives. "What [technology] will do for people is make our lives a hell of a lot easier, more convenient, more easily able to plug into the good life," Monamie Bhadra Haines, an assistant professor at the Technical University of Denmark, who studies the intersection between technology and society. "But ... the surveillance is what is here, now."

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