I am generally not a fan of any video games. Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs series is an exception. During the long weekend, I had the opportunity to replay Watch Dogs 2 and ended up finishing the all the missions in the story. You might want to ask: how is it game even relevant to your project? The answer is that after a semester’s research on artificial intelligence and big data, I now have a much deeper understanding of the plot of the game.
A Brief Introduction to Watch Dogs
For those of you who haven’t played the game yet, Watch Dogs is not just another third person open world (sandbox) game. It combines the freedom of a sandbox game with its innovative hacking mechanisms, allowing players to control objects from small ones like toys and cellphones to bigger ones like cars and tower cranes.
The entire Watch Dogs franchise revolves around ctOS, a smart city solution developed and implemented by Blume Corporation. The second game in the sequel, Watch Dogs 2, is set in San Francisco, the second city to install ctOS after Chicago, which was featured in the original Watch Dogs. It begins with protagonist Marcus Holloway joining DedSec, a famous hacking group that exploits the vulnerabilities of ctOS with the intention to prove that the system is flawed should be removed.
The games contains a series of missions with each exploring the topic of Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, advanced robotics, and more. It seems as if the developers of the game are warning about the imminence of our society becoming the one portrayed in the game.
The Big Brothers
Watch Dogs 2 is strategically set in the city of San Francisco Bay Area, which also happens to be the home to many high-tech companies. Specifically, these fictional companies, often referred to as the Big Brothers, are marked by three features.
The first feature is that they keep a significant amount of secrets. These secrets are often about future plans of the company that might violate people’s rights, including free speech, equal access to the internet, data privacy, etc. For instance, a military contractor called Tidis in the game has a secret R&D department that develops combat capable robots for the government. Tidis mentions in its internal introduction video that the machines can be used in domestic suppression scenarios. The corporate secrecy of the Big Brothers causes taxpayers to pour their tax dollars into devices and technologies that in the end will be used to oppress them.
The second feature is that these Big Brothers work together. Primarily, they aggregate users’ private data and share them with other tech giants. For instance, the smart home device retailer, Haum, collects user eating behavior and reports the data to major insurance companies who predicts the future health conditions of their clients and increase the premium accordingly. Not only do these tech companies share data, they also collaborate on projects that benefits each other. For instance, the aerospace company, Galileo, sent Blume satellites to space to construct a backbone network meant to funnel data in a way that civilian will never gain access to.
The third feature is that there is heavy governmnent involvement in the illegal activities of the Big Brothers. Government agencies like the FBI are potentially the biggest clients of Blume as they are the personal data aggregators. Blume’s technologies enables them to gain more control over their citizens and even perform social engineering through channels like social media, search engine queries, video recommendations, etc.
These alerting examples in the fictional world created by Ubisoft writers might have already become reality. It seems that the game’s developers are calling for players to protect their rights through legislative channels.
In Watch Dogs 2 story, a predictive algorithm called Bellweather is implemented in various applications of ctOS. Bellweather can perform pattern prediction and is used extensively in the criminal justice system. The algorithm aggregates personal information such as search engine queries and is able to “pre-convict” a person of a crime before he or she even commits it. In the protagonist’s case, he convicts of cyber terrorism just for searching the keyword “DedSec.”
The application of Bellweather makes me think about an article I read early in the semester about how AI can be utilized to predict and prevent crimes. While the intention is good, the execution is unacceptable. AI should never be used to prevent crimes. AIs, or at least today’s AIs, are not capable or accurate enough to be used in real-world crime prediction. AIs are also malleable, meaning that they adapt to new scenarios. This allows hackers, terrorist, and others to take advantage of this and exploit the system, just like what Marcus did at Blume’s data center. Using AI to predict crime is also unethical, given that it requires access to citizen’s private information such as search queries, credit card transactions, heather record, etc. Such act of monitoring each individual citizen is an serious intrusion of privacy, and thus should be prevented.
In my next blog, I will continue my discussion of Watch Dogs 2 and try to connect it with more current events. Thanks for reading, and see you next week!
Ubisoft. WATCH_DOGS 2. Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft, 15 Nov. 2016, watchdogs.ubisoft.com/watchdogs/en-us/home/. Accessed 19 Jan. 2018.
“Preview Watch Dogs 2.” Steemit, steemit.com/playstations/@gameapk/preview-watch-dogs-2. Accessed 20 Jan. 2018.