Cyberpunk: Fiction or soon to be Reality?

Cyberpunk is a form of science fiction that plays in an oppressive dystopian future ruled by the rise of technology and the malicious ways it can be used. The most popular depictions of this in media can be seen in movies such as Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Judge Dredd and Blade Runner and the highly anticipated (and aptly named) video game Cyberpunk 2077. These dystopian nightmare movies were created during the 80s and 90s where they were just that: science fiction movies with the important keyword being ‘fiction’. A few decades ago the thought of us being tracked across the internet, the possibility of instant facial and voice recognition, Geo-location via a small device in your pocket, etc. were either a pipe dream for some or unrealistic parts of fiction novels for others.

The use of technology in cyberpunk movies is most often used by the ruling party and government to monitor, oppress and control their citizens, dissidents, and the opposition. The use of these technologies can be subtle and away from the public eye so that most don’t even notice that they’re being monitored and controlled and how it affects their daily life, however they can also be very overt and frightening, yet seemingly inevitable and impossible to escape (unless you’re exceptionally tech-savvy and perhaps also brave). All of these movies and the concept of cyberpunk from the 20th century has now become reality in some territories, nations, and conflicts, such as the current Hong Kong protests. While the most known example of technology being used to monitor, control and oppress is by the People’s Republic of China government, it’s probably naive to believe that other nations aren’t toeing the line and using similar, albeit much more subtle methods of technology for political reasons and control.

This week, the Hong Kong government decided to ban make-up and face masks during the protests as these things prevent the government’s facial recognition cameras from properly identifying the dissidents. Using countless cameras, an immense database with names and faces, and a sophisticated technological system, the Hong Kong government is able to automatically identify individual protestors in order to tag dissidents that are involved in the protests/riots so that they can deal with them. Hong Kong is effectively a surveillance state with Big Brother watching “over” you, however, the protestors have their ways of combating this oppressive use of technology.

Hong Kong protestors using a head-mounted projector to hide their face

Hong Kong protestors are ingenious as they have found a way to skirt the new ban by using technology and creativity to their advantage. By projecting a series of random faces onto their own, they can prevent their true identity from being discovered by the surveillance cameras found throughout the city. This is an ingenious method to protect oneself against the malicious use of technology. Here new digital technologies have been implemented by the ruling body for mass surveillance and identification to oppress dissidents. While the protestors have used digital technology to fight other digital technologies, it’s a frightening sight that this is even needed nowadays. One expects to only see these sort of conflicts and use of technology in cyberpunk movies and novels, however, now it begs the question whether this sort of future is merely inevitable if governments decide to turn on their citizens in the name of maintaining the status quo.