August 15, 2020, marked the 74th Independence Day for India. For a civilisational nation with a 5000-year history, 73 years marks just a blip in time. The year 2020; annus horribilis has unique challenges, the ritualistic celebration of Independence, gives a semblance of normality in challenging and difficult times. A global pandemic, disrupted economy and a military standoff with a formidable neighbour would have cowed down lesser nations. For a civilisational nation which is continental sized like India, which has seen much worse, the dangers are not so obvious. The digital slavery that permeates India is invisible.
India has experienced the glories of riches, the soft power of great philosophies and religions, the euphoria of military triumphs and empires and iconic men and women in all spheres of human endeavours. India has also seen the poignancy of military defeats, massacres, destruction of heritage, the depths of famine, plagues, mass rapes, pillage and poverty. In such a historical background the challenges fade in significance. With a young population, there is room for hope and great expectations.
The dark clouds of a new phenomenon unseen in history are not discerned by the masses. The dangers of digital slavery a domain of human creation that has rapidly penetrated all spheres of human existence. The populace and its leaders could then be forgiven for their ignorance in celebrating Independence. Unknown to them they have been enslaved in a digital blanket with far-reaching effects. The age of Digital slavery did not come unheralded. In fact, it came with much celebration and anticipation in a wave of orchestrated euphoria. This was promoted by cultural and political movements that promised a new human paradigm.
A world without borders, a global village, that held promises of immigration, study abroad, travel, multinational business, a thriving cross-cultural community – in fact, a cosmopolitan utopia! That the aim of the creators of interconnected computers was population control under a pervasive digital surveillance blanket was hidden. This was by using sciences that focussed on the human brain and cognition for military advantages.
That cyberspace has brought about a lot of good is undoubted, but there were numerous red flags that in hindsight should have caught the eyes of the discerning. That it did not, is a triumph of US hegemony especially in its dominance of popular culture. It is also a cause for concern about the ability of the human race in thinking through the political and social consequences of free transborder data flows in a world that is politically fragmented.
This digital world, driven by mercantilist interests, ignores the collective lessons of human experiences and is fraught with risks. For the first time in history, humans are attempting to control the cognition of entire populations by pervasive and omnipresent digital surveillance. This ignores certain fundamental evolutionary dynamics on which society rests today. The human brain is a product of millions of years of evolution of life on earth. The societal fabric, culture, economic patterns etc are to a large extent the collective product of this evolution. Trying to unlock the patterns by surreptitious mass surveillance for population control is a brilliant military strategy. That the tools of this military strategy are mercantilist organisations whose primary aim is profit can lead to catastrophe.
To achieve this digital dominance via AI algorithms that feed off big data flows (that are expanding at a geometrical rate) is unprecedented in human history. This can undermine modern societies a product of interlinked civilisational experiences and evolution. Our political, military and societal frameworks are inadequate to handle this phenomenon are evident as seen from the last US presidential elections. Which was influenced by data manipulation. For India, the modern Republic it is time to introspect deeply on the meaning of Independence in the information age. There is widespread evidence that a varied population like ours, can easily be disrupted via the digital domain. In fact, this is proved by an empirical analysis of Internet shutdowns wherein we are global leaders.
Although there is growing awareness and recognition about the dangers of data colonialism and the importance of privacy, our debates are hugely influenced and curated by MNCs with very deep pockets. It is evident that our decision-makers are searching for answers as extremely sophisticated FUD is directed as an information operation at our policymakers and legislative efforts. The blatant violation of our fundamental rights by iconic global MNCs routinely come to light. These are mostly unchallenged in our legal justice systems, legislatures and the press should be a wakeup call. In that sense 15 August is a day that should provoke a debate in our public sphere about Independence and its implications under the digital slavery that has become acceptable as it is mostly invisible to the common citizen.