At the beginning of Microsoft’s annual “Build” conference last week, CEO Satya Nadella said the tech giants have a responsibility to circumvent a dystopian, 1984-like future scenario.
He said this as he introduced Microsoft’s plans to further develop artificial intelligence, as kind of a public relations move to assure people the technology wouldn’t get out of hand.
However, if you look at Microsoft’s history and how extensively they have collaborated with government and the very forces that would use their technology to create a technocratic, Orwellian future, you’d see that this reassurance means nothing.
Just yesterday, an installment of WikiLeaks’ Vault7 documents revealed that 2 CIA malware programs specifically infect Microsoft computers, to perform tasks on infected computers, check for scheduled events, and collect data.
The Microsoft CEO’s statement was summarized by Yahoo:
“Nadella spent time on stage at the Seattle conference stressing a need to build trust in technology, saying new applications must avoid dystopian futures feared by some.
Nadella’s presentation included images from George Orwell?s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” to underscore the issue of responsibility of those creating new technologies.
Microsoft is infusing all of its products and services with AI, and enabling those who develop on its platform to imbue creations with customized capabilities, according to executive vice president of artificial intelligence and research Harry Shum.”
He said this because people are rightfully, seriously concerned with the dangers of artificial intelligence and the trajectory technology is going. This means they have a serious enough PR problem with people finding technology unnecessary or dangerous, for the CEO of Microsoft to address it to begin an important conference.
This is proof that public opinion matters and we can reject technology if it doesn’t serve us well.
Satya Nadella said:
“What Orwell prophesied in ‘1984,’ where technology was being used to monitor, control, dictate, or what Huxley imagined we may do just by distracting ourselves without any meaning or purpose — neither of these futures is something that we want.”
“The future of computing is going to be defined by the choices that you as developers make and the impact of those choices on the world.”
What he said is inconsistent with Microsoft’s history of collaboration with government, and silence when they are accused of it.
From Edward Snowden’s 2013 leaks to the WikiLeaks releases on CIA surveillance in 2017, Microsoft is shown to be complicit every step of the way. It’s not easy to sum up the entire history of Microsoft’s collaboration with government surveillance, but we’ll name a few things here.
What is an “Orwellian future?”
It could be considered a technocracy, a surveillance state where data collected through people’s communications, microphones and cameras in the home and in public, is fed to the state at people’s detriment.
One day, this data being collected surely will be used in court to prosecute people if we continue on this trajectory.
So this is how Microsoft is helping create exactly what they claim they want to prevent.
First, in 2013 Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed, according to the Guardian:
“Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.
The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.
The documents show that:
• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.”
Microsoft claimed they were legally obligated to provide the info, but they went far beyond that. It seems they gave as much as they could, including entire Skype video calls. It would be naive to think this isn’t still happening.
This was of course suspected long before it was revealed in 2013, and with every release of info reality is shown to be much worse than previously thought when it comes to surveillance.
In 2017, WikiLeaks’ Vault7 CIA leaks took our understanding of mass surveillance to a new level.
First, they released documents showing that the CIA can turn almost anything into a surveillance device, that they can penetrate allegedly encrypted messaging apps such as Signal, ect.
According to USA Today:
“Thousands of documents published by WikiLeaks Tuesday describe an arsenal of CIA hacking tools that can turn iPhone and Android smartphones, TVs, computers and other coveted consumer products into “covert microphones.””
Then yesterday, WikiLeaks released a few more documents showing how the CIA works with features specifically built into Microsoft computers to collect data and perform tasks.
It is unclear whether Microsoft can easily deny their knowledge of this, or deny being complicit. But given their history, it would be wise to assume the worst.
According to RT:
“WikiLeaks has released the latest instalment in the #Vault7 series, detailing two apparent CIA malware frameworks dubbed ‘AfterMidnight’ and ‘Assassin’ which it says target the Microsoft Windows platform.
The latest release consists of five documents detailing the two frameworks. ‘AfterMidnight’ allows operators to load and execute malware on a target machine, according to a statement from WikiLeaks.
The malware, disguised as a self-persisting dynamic-link library (DLL), unique to Microsoft, executes ‘Gremlins’ – small payloads which run hidden on the machine subverting the functionality of software as well as surveying the target and exfiltration of data. A payload named ‘AlphaGremlin’ allows operators to schedule customs tasks to be executed on the machine.
Once installed ‘AfterMidnight’ uses a HTTPS listening port to check for any scheduled events. Local storage related to ‘AfterMidnight’ is encrypted with a key not stored on the target machine, according to a user guide provided in the leak.
According to the leak, ‘Assassin’ is a similar type of malware to ‘AfterMidnight’. The tool’s user guide describes it as “an automated implant that provides a simple collection platform on remote computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system.”
The tool purportedly allows operators to perform specific tasks on an infected computer, periodically sending intercepted information to listening posts. It is made up of four subsystems: ‘Implant’, ‘Builder’, ‘Command and Control’, and ‘Listening Post’.
The ‘Implant’ provides the core logic and functionality of the tool on a target computer. The way it’s set up determines much of how the tool will behave on the target computer.
The ‘Builder’ arranges the Implant and ‘Deployment Executables’ before deployment, while the ‘Command and Control’ subsystem acts as an interface between the operator and the ‘Listening Post.’
The ‘Listening Post’ allows the ‘Implant’ to communicate with the subsystem through a web server.”
So is this a factor in why Microsoft is so eager to ensure people they don’t want to create an Orwellian future?
Can Microsoft really deny being complicit with this?