The signal boss warns that AI relies on mass surveillance.

Signal Boss warns that artificial intelligence is dependent on widespread surveillance.


The CEO of the encrypted messaging app Signal told AFP on Thursday that the AI tools that crunch numbers, make text and videos, and find trends in data depend on mass monitoring and have a lot of power over our lives.

On the other hand, Meredith Whittaker said that worries about spying and worries about AI were “two framings of the same thing” at VivaTech in Paris, which is Europe’s top startup gathering where industry leaders brag about how great their products are.

“The AI technologies we’re talking about currently are reliant on mass surveillance,” she told us.

“They require enormous quantities of data that are the derivatives of this massive monitoring operation that grew out of the 90s in the US, and has become the financial engine of the tech industry.”

Whittaker set up the AI Now Center at New York University in 2017. He had worked for Google for years before helping to organize a staff strike in 2018 over working conditions.

These days, she fights for privacy and is very angry about business methods that depend on collecting personal information.

She also makes it clear that she doesn’t think the AI business is moving in the right way.

AI systems are always looking for data to feed into them, but they also make a huge amount of data.

She said that this result “has the power to classify, order, and direct our lives in ways that we should both be equally concerned about” even if it is wrong.

She also talked about how an industry run by “a handful of surveillance giants” that are “largely unaccountable” creates power imbalances.

She said, “Most of us are not the ones who use AI.”

Most of us have to deal with it being used by our bosses, the police, the government, or whoever else.

“They have their aims but they might not be aims that benefit us or help society.”

It struck her as interesting how AI companies liked to say they were helping to solve the climate problem.

She said that fossil fuel companies were giving them money, and their technology was being used to find new materials to take out.

“Because, well, where is the money?” “Not to protect the climate,” she said.

“It is in huge contracts with BP, with Exxon, with other major oil and gas companies.”

In the end, she said that Europeans shouldn’t think about competing with bigger AI companies in the US.

One more option is “to rethink tech that can serve more profitable democracy and more rights-preserving or mixed societies“.

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