Inside China’s High-Tech Dystopia

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 All those workers have been replaced by one lonely final inspector.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 JD.com 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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About the Author: Oren Garnes

100 Comments

  1. yea if I got a jwalking ticket automatically withdrawn from my account I would immediately QR scan a bus ticket out of that fucking place

  2. Now I think Chinese are in the right track, build up solid credits background. They will be the most welcomed the people cause they don’t do jaywalking which prevents the traffic accidents, they don’t smoke on the streets which protects non smokers benefits, and they don’t spit, and they recycle in accordingly and etc. What is wrong with that? If there’s the discredit system everywhere the world, the world will be more safer! Less violence, less offensive behaviors, and less people died.

  3. I see people who've grown accustomed to controlling other people freaking out and soft core vilifying other people for doing the exact same things they've been doing for decades but slightly better. While also growing beyond the one parties ability to control even with a stranglehold on oil and currency and overwhelming military might.

  4. why would you trust any culture that ADMIRES tricks, deception, and exploitation??? to them it is CLEVERNESS not criminal. yuck

  5. The Democrat-Socialists of the US along with their crony capitalists partners Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook…. appear to be mirroring the China model. To subjugate and control the citizenry and political apparatus of the country. Dystopian indeed.

  6. Please hire some more professional dudes to do vids like this…
    things don't go by my way, then it is dystopia… looks like a thinking pattern of 5 year old.

  7. Remember to keep comments respectful and to follow our community Guidelines…..Equals Dont spout conservative and/or Christian principles or we will censor, shadow ban or ban you outright

  8. This insidious intrusion is unacceptable in Western societies where individuals have rights.
    What looks like a dashboard dog is really a Chinese fox that monitors you in your car.

  9. You could have mentioned all the buildings standing vacant, all the factories standing empty, all the workers already feeling the toll of the automatisation already…
    Dystopian, obscurantist society…

  10. The interviewer sounds a bit careless about this whole thing. Yes, I get that you want to get the news out there, but showing real names and people's faces can be really dangerous for your sources. For example, I tried to look up more info on Diane Ding Laren (the lady he met up with at the robot restaurant). She's literally disappeared from all social media since 2018.

  11. Send China 100 Million Black Africans, 100 Million Latinos and 100 Million Muslim From Middle East then let see what happen………Imagine Communist Red China becoming the "Most Diverse Nation in the World" : oh my goodness

  12. China is Southeast Asia…China does not have unemployment lines…WeChat must be the model for Facebook's and Google's direction and business model

  13. Rather live their than Downtown L.A.
    Sad what democrats have done to a once great city.
    Worse they want to export the misery nationwide.

  14. The Chinese will eventually realize, too late, that if you don't pay workers enough to purchase what they make, then the economy will fail. It was Henry Ford's true legacy.

  15. I mostly have seen China as a very ethical country. Now I see where rules are being enforced for public safety with a concern that certain moral principles rather than general ethics may be imposed, limiting personal freedoms.

  16. Different to when I want there, stick that barcode payment where the sun dont shine. I thought of that personless food shop years ago but thought against it because in a western country you know it would get wrecked.

  17. Some people are too stubborn to follow the law,like jaywalking law, so a fine is really needed to teach him a lesson

  18. Outsourcing. Sweatshops. Replacing workers with robots. "Quick, blame COMMUNISM!!!" Remarkable propaganda.

  19. Mainland China has perfected all the negative traits of capitalism this combined with the remains of a former stalinist regime it is a ferrocious combination. Producing like hell and in the same breath no human rights, no privacy, no trade unions, no workers rights. Who is still believing that China has something to do with communism is terribly wrong. China is now an totalitarian capitalist system. That why so much members of other elites around the world are so intrigued by that country.

  20. Why are there always commnets under videos that expose other countries full of people bashing the US? Like children honestly
    .

  21. 白皮为什么那么喜欢把自己当作人类卫士?世界警察?🤔
    己所不欲勿施于人!🤦

  22. Hey man your credit card not working just because most those small shops they don't accept credit card with amex, visa, etc. ONLY(which we call a foreign card). Fancy restaurants or deluxe stores would accept, since they have different circuit. But most stores would only accept credit card with UnionPay(clearance system by Chinese banking system). But, still, most people prefer to use mobile pay even they have credit card, which more convenient.

  23. For northern americans: calm down, you're being monitored and scanned by the NSA & CIA more than you'll admit being drunk. And oh yes, they spy other countries, Merkel had a bad time with Obama administration remember for what it was?

    Also: what government doesn't spy their citizens??? the way they do it can be obvious or very cautious, but they do it without shame. In Argentina there was the Proyecto-X, thanks to the Kirchner's.
    It was a shameless and mediocre project (aimed to not being a secret), so people can live knowing they are being spied. Most tiranic form of oppression. Letting you know you're being spied and can do nothing. I remember chatting with an US citizen and she was OK with the CIA spying all the citizens, ''because, national security''. That's dumbest and submissive af thing I've heard in years. She was happy being scanned to the level of ''what underwear you're wearing now''…''I have nothing to hide!!''.

    You have nothing yours and intimacy is being sold, that's the other part of the story.

  24. 1984 is already here. Less vendors take cash more and more here in the USA. Why is that, ask yourself? 5G is a dangerous A.I. system. We will be China sooner than you think.

  25. If I visit China and made it back stateside my account would be in the double negative. Just saying. Jaywalking? Really?

  26. Minimum wage people and retirees cannot keep up with rent. Lower people s living expenses not the interest rate that will help the economy.

  27. over here in Auckland NZ i cant even drive through a green light at an intersection with out hoards of Chinese people jay walking on the crossing , sighs saying dont cross , just like blade Runner

  28. What the hell are we doing? If the future holds nothing more then making more materials to buy so we can use them and throw them in the trash. And this is gonna happen more and more and more? Wow we humans have really lost our way. Oh well at this rate will be extinct in less than 800 years

  29. hmmm ??? Makes me wonder how YouTube celebrity – Naomi "sexy cyborg" Wu, fits into this perception of Shenzhen ???

  30. I'm sorry I didn't get the quote "1984 be in the future?" Like dude I'm American and I'm almost in my 30s what in the hell?

  31. Another of bloomberg propaganda to paint negative picture of China. I am sick of these western idiotic media when talking about China everything is bad n lies. Just the title of this video is enough to tell that it's another bullshit of bloomberg.

  32. China only GOT THERE , by our teasonis Presidents . By allowing them to pay virtually no tariff taxes ; this clip is piss ignorant on real life workings

  33. 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

  34. 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.

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

  36. ВОТ ТАКУЮ БУДУЩУЮ ЖИЗНЬ ПРИНЕСУТ НАМ ЭЛЕКТРОННЫЕ УДОСТОВЕРЕНИЯ ЛИЧНОСТИ, КОТОРЫЕ ПРАВИТЕЛЬСТВО ПУТИНА ВВОДИТ В 2022 ГОДУ – 4:19 И ДАЛЬШЕ! НИ ОДНА КРЕДИТКА НЕ ПРИНИМАЕТСЯ К ОПЛАТЕ. НУЖЕН КОД ЛИЧНОСТИ, КОТОРЫЙ ПЕРЕДАЁТ ВСЮ ИНФОРМАЦИЮ ПРАВИТЕЛЬСТВЕННЫМ СТРУКТУРАМ – И БЕЗ ЭТОГО КОДА-ИДЕНТИФИКАТОРА НА СМАРТФОНЕ (!!!) ТВОЯ ЖИЗНЬ ОСТАНАВЛИВАЕТСЯ.
    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".

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

  38. 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)
    6:49 CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY

    9:21: NOPE

  39. 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

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