Digital Colonization: India is for sale
Excerpts from Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Power by Rajiv Malhotra
There is a risk that India is already well on its way toward digital colonization; its strategy on AI is not even an effective defence, much less a plan for a leadership role in the AI epoch. Yet Indian intellectuals fail to address the issue with enough seriousness.
In fact, some well-meaning persons have advised me to avoid writing on this topic because it might upset the fragile psychological equilibrium of many Indians.
Most leaders are fully aware that India has big data unique to its immense diversity of genetics, culture, and natural resources. However, most of India's big data assets are sitting in raw unorganized form and not integrated; disconnected ministries have jurisdictions over the silos. Such fragmented data is sometimes being siphoned off by foreign entities that understand its value more than the Indian authorities do.
These national assets should not be given away by foolish officials and politicians.
.... Indians, both in their individual capacity and as officials running institutions, are supplying precious data to train foreign AI systems, and these models are used to understand and engage the Indian mindset in a variety of situations either openly or secretly.
Artificial Intelligence systems have been processing immense amounts of raw data to develop psychological profiles for various segments of the Indian population. Machine learning systems are figuring out Indians’ most intense desires that can be used to get them hooked.
These systems analyze what various users like and dislike, their habits, strengths and vulnerabilities, key relationships, shopping interests, ideological leanings, affiliations, and so forth. Facebook, Twitter, and Google know more about Indians than social scientists, government, gurus, or even the people themselves.
This gives them the power to influence the public.
Indians are addicted to the foreign digital ecosystem and depend on it to communicate among themselves and to transact critical services across all sectors of society. Foreign social media platforms choose which individuals and messages will go viral, and hence control the image, career, and social profile of Indians. They undermine the traditional sources of authority, replacing them with algorithms.
In the name of fairness and the public interest, they censor and manipulate users by injecting their own ideological premises in the social discourse. Every time there is a public controversy or scandal, these US companies take sides under the pretext of social responsibility. This is exactly the rationale the British colonizers gave for their meddling and divide-and-rule policies. This is social engineering in the digital age.
If a digital platform company champions specific values (which are invariably based on its civilizational ethos), whatever those values might be, it cannot be considered neutral. Moreover, despite what digital giants claim about championing diversity, their core strategy depends on getting people to think and act the way they and their advertisers want. The business models are based on psychologically influencing people's thinking rather than encouraging independent thinking.
One is reminded of the eighteenth-century Indian elites that collaborated with the British, exposing Indian culture’s weak links and helping them map the country’s vulnerabilities. The British colonizers gave birth to Indology to study Indians, build psychological models of individual and social behaviour, and establish policies for dealing with different segments of society.
In today's jargon, we could say that Indology served the purpose of surveillance to compile big data and build models. After the Second World War (1939–45), this role was passed on to the US, which started the academic discipline of South Asia Studies and took the social-psychological mapping exercise to new heights. The new digital technologies are the latest evolution in this enterprise.