Boris Johnson warns about Google surveillance, says smart tech could rein “oppressively over the human race”

Johnson's speech was designed and delivered at the UN with the aim of securing international coordination in controlling and regulating new technologies in a thoughtful and "balanced" manner, reporters surmised from his address.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a lot of things on his mind right now, with an attempt to take his country out of the EU. However, that didn't stop him from traveling to New York for the ongoing UN General Assembly meetings and addressing some pressing technology-related issues.

What we found out from the speech is that Johnson, a former journalist habitually prone to over-the-top rhetoric and colorful language, is no fan of artificial intelligence (AI) the way it looks to be developing now, nor of the legions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are slowly invading people's physical spaces and privacy.

And it isn't to do with AI's technical merit, either, but with the perceived intent behind it, or at least, the likely outcome of its ever-wider deployment. Strange as it may sound coming from a British prime minister, Johnson is apparently not at all fond of total surveillance.

“Your mattress will monitor your nightmares, your fridge will beep for more cheese, your front door will sweep wide the moment you approach, like some silent butler,” Johnson told his UN audience.

IoT servers, on the other hand, he sees as “some great cloud of data that lowers ever more oppressively over the human race.” That isn't to say that Johnson has declared himself a technophobe. Instead, he rather ambitiously wants to strike a balance between freedom and control, but his speech seems to have been short on detail when it comes how to achieve such balance.

As things stand today, “it takes real effort to conceal your thoughts from Google,” Johnson continued – while in the future AI could either serve the human race or enslave it – in the shape of either caregiving robots, or alternatively, “pink-eyed terminators sent back from the future to cull the human race,” as he envisions it.

Johnson's speech was designed and delivered at the UN with the aim of securing international coordination in controlling and regulating new technologies in a thoughtful and “balanced” manner, reporters surmised from his address.

The British prime minister also said that his country has values opposed to unchecked mass surveillance, and instead wants to see freedom and openness preserved, and also, support tech innovation. To further share these values and coordinate their efforts, Johnson invited UN member-states to a gathering in London in 2020 that would deal with these issues.

Watch the full speech:


Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovic is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovic is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]