All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In hellworld, where city governments consist of property developers and their puppets, government is ran for profit's sake. Seattle is slowly sinking into a dystopian panopticon where a ubiquitous orwellian smile stalks residents in their homes, on the sidewalks, where this automated system tracks their every move and purchase in cashier-less stores, watching traffic, monitoring and hectoring them at work, and ruthlessly culling 10% of The Corporation's employees year after year. The ceaselessly optimized world where every movement is a transaction was, in 1984, a science-fiction hellworld. But that cold and impersonal capitalistic machine that grinds and reduces humans to numbers on a spreadsheet is here today. It colonized Seattle and turned it into a concrete jungle where workers destroy their minds and bodies in hopes of avoiding the fate of homelessness - but inevitably, many lose their homes and livelihood because the machine deemed them not as productive. A city without physical shackles, but where every resident is a prisoner to be watched, worked, and discarded. Kaizen taken to the extreme; a world where code weighs the lives of thousands and finds them wanting. A world of ceaseless toil and pain - not by a sinister dictatorship of ideology, but one where everything that makes humanity artful and expressive has been optimized away in search of the next dollar.
In Toronto, Google's sinister sibling, Sidewalk Labs, has begun work on a private town within the city, where private police and private judges preside over citizens lives, where private buildings spy on and track every resident and visitor, where every footstep is scrutinized and optimized for profit. A world where accountability is shifted from accountability to the public, to a world where "accountability" consists of automated systems deciding the value of residents lives in increasingly inscrutable ways with increasingly flawed logic.
AI researchers don't even understand how their creations think, and the AI systems built to audit AI Decision Making Units are unable to untangle the mess. Advanced neural nets are able to generate uncannily convincing images of people who never existed, but are unable to distinguish objects let alone understand the individual human potential of each of us. In pursuit of achieving an Asmovian Foundation but optimized for profit, Quants have built artificial thinking machines that are profoundly fast but stupid.
With machine learning's help, narrowly-focused projects can be achieved at scale; AI Portraits in the style of old masters, the recreation of old films in high fidelity, genocide. Automated systems have enabled the Government of the People's Republic of China to intern over one million Uighur muslims. In the US, automated systems focus ICE forces, while other automated systems arbitrarily determine prison sentences (and unfairly punish black people harder, automatically applying pre-existing biases) and bail releases. For every cool AI-powered cat video, machine learning applications with sinister uses number in the hundreds. And while China's Social Credit system permeates society, the threat posed by Surveillance Capital is more sinister - the very real harm done to society is not by outside actors, but we will rather be undone by our own unconscious complicity and our increasing reliance on automated systems to make sense of a world that demands our constant attention.
Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have formed a panopticon of crap with tentacles that reach into every facet of life, all in an effort to sell you products you already own.
Microsoft's long been a blight on the world, a black hole filled with the husks of brilliant engineers and salted with beancounters and soulless salesdorks. Having spent its first two decades strong-arming PC makers, software designers, and organizations, it now spends its fourth quietly siphoning money and hosting the core systems of the world's worst governments. The last notable product it lobbed out was Windows 10, an operating system that was happy to snaffle your keystrokes and one that tried to shove your key files into Mordor's vaults - OneDrive.
Inside Google, the cancer called YouTube continues to grow and make everything it touches worse; YouTube has been documented as a key force in the rise of racism and radicalized terrorists, YouTube's engineers have devoted time to undermining co-worker projects and sabotaging working products, and one of the driving forces behind the rise of "streaming services" (that don't pay artists worth a damn). Google's Android project - at one time headed by a serial creeper who got a golden parachute - was a fragmented, insecure mess with a penchant for feeding your contacts and messages to Google if you weren't careful, and even if you were, individual apps could just... snaffle everything anyways. Google's Home project pushed out subsidized surveillance devices disguised as twee little speakers that could insidiously worm itself into the center of your daily interactions with your home.
Facebook, a pompous Myspace clone made by the only documented instance of sentient bacteria, has spent the past six years catering to and courting the patronage of murderous dictators, driving polarization, and wooing the far-right. It's a hellsite. And it doesn't just want to be your hangout for chatting with friends, your source of news, your place for bad takes - it wants to colonize your home.
There's Amazon. Ayn Rand's wet dream. A historically massively unprofitable venture that spent twenty years driving workers to suicide, doing yearly culls of staff, overworking warehouse laborers, Amazon dreams of not just being a place where you buy explosive batteries, but Amazon dreams of being everything. Amazon's Echo wants to be your digital bae that's always watching you. Amazon's move into food stores - and drive towards automating them - will see Amazon gain massive unaccountable power of life and death over the next generation of hustlers and digital gig sharecroppers. Amazon's domination of the supply chain has come at the cost of many lives, and of controlling how many steps a worker can take (and driving workers to the point of wearing diapers just to avoid getting cut in the yearly 10% cull).
In 1984, George Orwell described the future as "a boot stamping on a human face – forever."
Don't worry. Be happy. Sublimate. Accept the soothing tones of a digitally-created song, delivered over Comcast pipes, selected for you by The Algorithm, as you change your clothes before rushing out to your next gig shift. Embrace the Brave New World and your soma rations picked up from the Walmazon*Mart.
There was nothing that we could do to stop it.
The future, it turns out, had been written for us all along.