By Rob Verkerk PhD, founder, executive and scientific director, ANH-Intl
Henry Kissinger has often been quoted as saying, around 1974, “Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.” Even Wikiquote suggests this, but while many of us might resonate with it, we’ve struggled to find a primary source.
Control of power
Whatever Kissinger might have said, the fact is in his time, energy, food and the ownership of money were the tools of power. That hasn’t changed during the last half century. Human nature remains as it is, with a small number who continue to attempt to usurp power over the masses.
But there’s no doubt that there are some new ‘boys’ on the block, these including medicine, digital tech and data, all of which are very happy bedfellows. Food and medicine are intimately linked to health, data is the currency that allows you to understand what’s really going on, even though most feel data privacy prevents this. Digital is the medium that makes it all come together. Digital surveillance, whether it relates to your physical movements, what websites you visit or how you spend your money, as well as health data, which depict your current health as well as your likely health trajectories, including how you’re likely to be managing your health, is potent information when combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and put in the hands of those who want to control you.
Control of thought
But it goes further than this. What if you can control the thoughts, drivers and choices of the people? Well, that’s something many aspire to and it’s happening all the time, unnoticed by many. It can also happen in a multitude of different ways. Subliminal marketing is the most obvious way, and while marketeers, psychologists and behavioural scientists have been cross-pollinating for decades, it is our new level of exposure with digital information that means there are many more opportunities to intervene. One of the common digital interventions is by Google selecting what adverts we are shown according to our ‘preferences’. Or it might be through the targeting of certain population groups, with children being among the most vulnerable.
It’s interesting to see brands owned by some of the biggest players in the world now turning to activism and drawing attention to the problem, perhaps driven by the likelihood of a win-win as much as a concern for ‘responsible capitalism’. Dove’s commercial (below) warning of the impact of the beauty industry on young girls is such an example.
Dove commercial highlighting onslaught of perfect body imagery on children
The tech arms race
Those of us who value our health sovereignty often like to think we’re quietly savvy about the new era we’re entering, that of the technology arms race, with China and the USA very much at the battlefront. We might feel that all that we need to do to avoid being bullied into doing what those who wish to control us want us to do, is say ‘no’. We switch our browsers to alternatives to Google and max out the privacy settings on our smartphones. But is this enough?
At the latest round of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Harari was given significant airtime, providing warnings over the risks of what he aptly calls ‘data colonialism’ and the possible disappearance of humans as we know them in 100 years. Yes, he believes there’s a good chance tech zombies will be created, some kind of hybrid of human and AI tech, as per the scifi movies. For the sake of journalistic balance, Harari was pitted against the CEO and founder of controversial Chinese tech giant Huawei, Ren Zhengfei. As a side note, in 2018, Zhengfei’s company pipped Samsung and became the second largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, behind Apple, while, in January 2019, Harari stopped using a smartphone altogether. Huawei is also intimately involved in 5G and debates ensue over the extent the West should be involved in core and peripheral functionality as 5G moves forward. That’s got a lot less to do with safety or privacy, and a lot to do with tactics in the tech arms race.
Harari issues a grave warning to humankind, suggesting that we have no idea where the biotech and artificial intelligence (AI) arms race will take us. He says you need just three things to hack, not someone’s phone or computer, but their very being; that’s the data, the biological knowledge and the computing power. Granted those assets, he said you can know more about another person than that person knows about him- or her-self. He asserted that we’re very close to this point now, and data colonies are well and truly already in existence.
Unsurprisingly, Zhengfei countered these concerns, saying that AI was all about doing good, not bad. He argued that humanity could use it to benefit society, not to destroy it. What he appears to forget is that most of the bad this world has experienced has been the result of the actions and views of a few, not the masses. It’s the masses, through war, revolution, democratic processes or choice, who’ve generally got things back on course for the common good. Carbon consciousness, ocean clean-ups and tree planting weren’t ideas that were born in board rooms or government committees. They were the result of responses from the people. We are exactly at that interface now in the responsible – or irresponsible – roll-out of digital technologies and AI.
World Economic Forum interview between Prof Yuval Harari and Huawei CEO and founder, Ren Zhengfei (21 January 2020)
When an arms race is on, as Harari posits, who knows what will happen? But whatever the outcome, that outcome will be seminal to what happens between 2020 and 2050. The IoT (Internet of Things) that expects to deliver smart cities, smart homes, self-driving cars and Netflix on tap, anytime, anyplace, has yet to fully unfold with 5G as the 3D communication system.
5G - misalignment of arguments
When I was interviewed by Stephen Jardine on BBC Radio Scotland last Friday on the merits or otherwise of 5G, it was very clear how the scene is increasingly being set. ‘Reliable’ scientists say it’s safe, ‘wacky’ scientists, activists and ‘electrosensitives’ say it could be very dangerous to humans and wildlife, and digital tech protagonists say it’s the tech that's utterly essential if we’re to embrace progress and naysayers should get out of the way. There's no prizes over who's currently winning that argument at corporate board and governmental level.
The interview came my way as we’re campaigning on this issue and I’m one of around 270 scientists and doctors around the world who’ve signed up to the 5G Appeal that is calling on a moratorium to further roll-out of 5G pending adequate and relevant safety studies. Co-interviewee Dr Frank De Vocht, from Bristol University, very much took the line that there are already enough safety studies on 5G. However, this was the very issue that was contested in the US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee last year. Here, Steve Berry, President and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association told the committee that the safety of 5G is based only on the “low power assumption” which does not fit with the pattern of longer-term intended use. Neither Berry or an industry associate, Mr Gillen, could point to any evidence that the industry had supported studies looking at the biological effects of 5G.
Dan Sodergren, a well-known tech advocate, took the line that the biggest danger wasn’t the technology itself, but rather those (of us) who are spreading false information about its dangers and so might interfere with the planned roll-out and deny those who need it access to digital information. Anne Milston, a 5G campaigner in Edinburgh who is herself an ‘electrosensitive’ and is very concerned about additional and different forms of associated exposure, including yet-to-be-released high band, milliwaves, was of course shunned by Mr Sodergren. He said you can’t use the argument of sensitive people. He went on to say it’s no different to people who are sensitive or allergic to foods and no one is planning to ban foods just because some people are allergic to some of them. But of course there is a huge difference: you can choose not to eat foods that are labelled with allergenic ingredients – it’s almost impossible to escape 5G. Then what about the potential impacts on the behaviours of migratory birds, insect pollinators and the myriad wildlife that could be impacted.
The bottom line is that these kinds of polar arguments rarely move forward on the big stage of government, corporations and society with any logical structure. Opposing belief systems run in parallel, never intersecting, and there is no facility for proper engagement with those who really understand, either through their experience or expertise, the issues around electrosensitivity, or what constitutes adequate or relevant safety data?
Do they take into account the expected scenarios when everyone’s homes and whole cities are reliant on 5G, including once millions of small cell antennae have been installed all around us, the number of satellites has been increased over 100-fold and they’re all emitting milliwave frequencies? Our analysis of these kinds of questions is invariably in line with those of Senator Richard Blumenthal when he proposed that we are effectively “flying blind” after the hearing of evidence on 5G studies in the US Senate committee back in February 2019 (see concluding remarks in video below).
Excerpt from US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, February 2019, with Senator Richard Blumenthal
Undermining freedom and democracy
We’d be short-sighted to ignore Professor Harari’s concerns over the technological arms race and data colonialism. We'd also be blind if we were to accept Big Tech's assertions that it understands the biological impacts of the mass roll-out of 5G. Harari's arguments that data colonies, coupled to AI and control over the digital architecture owned and controlled by a few could undermine freedom and democracy are not in my view at all far-fetched. That's before you concern yourself with a single incidence of harm caused to a human or any other organism.
With this technology, who needs atom bombs, and it’s made more interesting that Ren Zhengfei from Huawei made this comparison in his World Economic Forum interview with Harari (above).
So – what do we do?
We can't easily exclude ourselves from the digital age, and in my view most of us shouldn't, it has too much going for it. But we can do it well, or very badly, both for people and planet. And increasingly I believe that if the people are excluded a voice in the roll out that's gathering pace, I'm with Professor Harari, sensing it won't be done well and the costs to humanity and natural systems could be huge.
Coming back to Kissinger, where we started, let's remember the power of the money that resides in our pockets. Okay, it's trivial, but if enough of us spend our money differently to the ways envisaged by those who wish to control us, we can help take back some control.
One of the many things we've learned about change over ten decades is that you can't ask people to do too much. So here goes, here's my top three requests:
Do not upgrade to a mobile phone that has 5G capability. If your smartphone is working fine, you probably don't need a new one and save your money. Huawei, Samsung and Xiaomi are among the brands who are plugging 5G
Avoid fitting smart technologies in your house that connect to the Internet, unless you can be 100% sure your data are not shared. That includes smart meters, smart speakers, smart refrigerators and smart video surveillance equipment.
Share this story with others in your network, especially those you care about most. The initial steps in any behaviour change, as depicted in Prochaska & DiClemente's well-trodden model of change, involves contemplation and preparation. If those you care about most are not yet aware of the risks involved with the battle for digital control of life on earth, then please help them become more aware.
Also, please consider signing the 5G Appeal, especially if you're a doctor, other health professional or scientist.