Tech companies do not have our best interests at heart. They seek contracts with the Pentagon, make tools for militarized police forces, and develop solutions for the neofascist border police to rain terror on migrants. Surveillance is repackaged as convenience, while gig companies have spent the past decade using the excuse of technology to further erode workers’ rights to their benefit.
The future these companies are building toward, in partnership with governments that want to control their populations, is, to say the least, not one that puts human flourishing at the top of its agenda. Rather, in service of the power and profit of a small few, we’re all being made worse off. It can be difficult to imagine the outcome of this trajectory, but Alex Rivera’s 2008 science fiction film Sleep Dealer gives us a glimpse into a possible future, with a specific focus on the outcomes for people in the Global South.
The film depicts a future Mexico where the border is closed and society is further militarized in service of increasingly powerful corporations, often headquartered in the United States. They build large infrastructure projects that harm local communities while funneling the labor force into factories where they’re hooked into a computer system via metal nodes implanted in their bodies to control robots north of the border. Migrant labor may be a thing of the past, but Western society still requires cheap labor to sustain itself.
The future that Sleep Dealer depicts is, for all its science fiction elements, not entirely unfamiliar to our present reality, with its militarized and exploitative technologies. In many ways, we’re already headed toward a future similar to what Rivera depicts, and we need to act now to chart a different course — for technology and for ourselves.
For Memo Cruz, the film’s protagonist, technology is both a fascination and a form of oppression. In his spare time, he tinkers with computer parts, while drones and cameras help protect a massive dam that his father says not only closed off the river that once watered their crops, but their future along with it.
This system of control is turned into entertainment through a television show called DRONES, which features pilots who remotely control drones through nodes of their own as they protect infrastructure projects and “kill the bad guys.” After Memo accidentally taps into one of their communications channels while tinkering one night, his home becomes a target on the next episode, killing his father and leaving them without their meager income.
The film reminds us that many of our consumer technologies begin with military applications. The internet, for example, is the product of the Department of Defense’s development of the…
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