- Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech at the UN General Assembly about technology on Tuesday, with a number of bizarre quotes referencing sci-fi novels, films, and even niche British comedy shows.
- The speech ricocheted between a huge range of recognisable dystopian tropes such as the “Terminator” franchise and conspiracy theories about the internet of things.
- It came just after Johnson had suffered a huge defeat in the UK as the Supreme Court ruled his suspension of Parliament unlawful.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a bizarre speech about technology at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, during which he haphazardly drew on big tech news stories, literature, and pop-culture to present dystopian and utopian views of technology.
The speech came after Johnson suffered a major blow back in the UK, as the supreme court ruled his suspension of parliament to be unlawful.
Here are a selection of quotes from Johnson’s speech:
- “You may keep secrets from your friends, from your parents, your children, your doctor – even your personal trainer – but it takes real effort to conceal your thoughts from Google.”
- “A future Alexa will pretend to take orders. But this Alexa will be watching you, clucking her tongue and stamping her foot.”
- “In the future, voice connectivity will be in every room and almost every object: 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.”
- “Are we doomed to a cold and heartless future in which computer says yes – or computer says no with the grim finality of an emperor in the arena?”
To evoke a future where algorithmic inscrutability and bias could persecute people, Johnson turns to the British sketch programme “Little Britain.” The programme had a character whose catchphrase was “computer says no” whenever she apathetically failed to help customers.
- “AI, what will it mean? Helpful robots washing and caring for an ageing population, or pink-eyed terminators sent back from the future to cull the human race?”
This is a reference to the “Terminator” films, but exactly why Johnson descibes the Terminators as “pink-eyed” is not clear.
- “What will synthetic biology stand for – restoring our livers and our eyes with miracle regeneration of the tissues, like some fantastic hangover cure? Or will it bring terrifying limbless chickens to our tables.”
The “limbless chickens” could be a reference to the growing number of lab-grown meat companies, or it could have taken inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “Oryx and Crake,” in which chicken breasts are cultivated genetically engineered organisms called chickienobs, which have no heads or limbs.
Here is the Guardian’s cut of some of Johnson’s moments from the speech:
Johnson countered his more Orwellian imagery with utopian examples of how technology can help humankind, and concluded by announcing a summit in London next year – although he gave no details about it.
Boris Johnson’s relationship with the London tech scene is currently under some scrutiny.
His links to tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri has come under scrutiny after the Sunday Times revealed that Johnson overruled officials while the Mayor of London to send Arcuri on foreign trade missions.
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