When Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, due to speak at last weekend’s Festival of Democracy conference in Sydney, opened an A4 booklet covered in handwriting, I realised what had happened. Now that Attorney-General George Brandis’ metadata laws have been passed, the only way to avoid George and ASIO reading your work is to actually write it down on paper. With Google in bed with the National Security Agency, simultaneously mining your data for profit and selling you out to the government, this will now be the only way to stay private.

As usual, the WA Senator was succinct. Although the Coalition government has a new, popular leader in Malcolm Turnbull, “the smooth Tory is going to do us all slowly,” he said.

However, the loss of Tony Abbott “was a personal shock,” he said. “It was staggering, like someone you had been leaning upon and pressed against was suddenly taken away.”

“The onion guy” had been “finished by internal revulsion and polling, which reflected external public revulsion,” he said.

Ludlam said the Australian Parliament was now an accurate reflection of the sentiment of academic Noam Chomsky: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum …”

The co-deputy leader of the Greens had been asked to appear with Julian Assange at the weekend conference staged by the Sydney Democracy Network. The SDN, started by University of Sydney’s Professor John Keane, hosted the Festival of Democracy to discuss the new, challenging and dangerous trends facing democracies.

Julian Assange appeared via Skype from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, his 1216th day inside its walls.

The editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks spoke about the themes in his latest book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, published late last year. The book arose from a meeting he had in 2011 with the chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt.

The 44-year-old Queenslander spoke about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to mine the enormous piles of data that has been gleaned through the PRISM program. This is the secret data collection program under which the NSA collects data from nine internet companies, principally Google.

“AI is already here — voice recognition is now reasonably good, computers can beat the world’s best chess players and many aspects of human ability are gradually being conquered,” Assange said.

Assange quoted renowned physicist Stephen Hawking saying he was worried that computers would become autonomous within 20 years and would start a war with no human input.

He also talked about “surveillance capitalism”; a process by which companies use technological infrastructure to extract and analyse data and carry out experiments on the users of it.

“When you talk to a friend on an Android phone, that is a ‘positive externality’ for Google who harvests that data,” he said.

Google has bought up a few drone companies, and because of Google Maps and Google Street View, it can run those drones down streets, he says. And thanks to the use of Android mobile phones, it knows where the people are. No wonder Ludlam was using a pencil.

Peter Fray

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