By Yu Shao Yang (4F 2019), Hiromi Lim (4J 2019), Yeo Yong Jun (4K 2019) from the CID4+ English AI Module 2019
“47.4%: Alliance Party; 52.6%: Social Democratic Party. Most votes go to the SDP. Let us welcome our new Prime Minister, Mr Rashid Zulkifli, onstage.”
Cheers and applause reverberate through the air, as my grinning father strides onto the stage, waving passionately at everyone.
However, I cannot bring myself to smile.
Thirteen days after the election
Using a controller, I mess with my magnetic micro-robots. There is a knock on the door, and I freeze. “Ashraf!”
My father enters, saying, “Thanks for behaving at the swearing in ceremony. What are you doing? It’s time for dinner.”
If I weren’t already on the floor, I would have fallen off my chair.
I have not seen my father in three days, and he never, never calls me out for dinner. Dazed, I scramble out to eat.
Returning to my room, I collapse on the floor unable to contain my exhilaration. A call from Osumare comes in. Perfect timing, I am bursting to tell one of my friends about the meal I just had.
“Guess what happened! Dad pulled me out to eat dinner with him! He even-”
“I don’t believe it.” she interjects. “Why would your dad suddenly be nice when he’s been so cold to you all this while?”
“I told you, elections were really stressful for him. Now it’s over, why can’t we have a fresh start? He asked me about you guys, about robotics club.”
“If he wanted to make amends, he would have done it and apologised straight after the election. He never talks to you about your life, it’s just grades, image, ‘behave for my campaign’. Why now?”
I am so annoyed. Osumare is just relying on her assumptions, and not seeing this from my point of view.
“Forget it, we’ll talk tomorrow.”
“I’m telling you to just be careful. Your dad-”
I hang up.
“You have arrived at your destination, sir”, the levitating car speaks. Rashid Zulkifli smiles schemingly, before turning expressionless again.
At the entrance of the building, he goes through an 8-step authentication process, then steps through titanium vault doors. Finally, the PM stands at the centre of a maximum security room. Lights flicker on, an ever-present beam of light shadowing him. Truly a spectacular scene.
As far as the eyes can see, rows and rows of quantum computers are stacked so high, one can imagine it stretches straight to the moon.
‘Bring the monitors,” Rashid commands.
With stunning efficiency, monitors converge before him, as if their non-existent lives are at stake. The screens flicker on, switching between various channels. No, not your typical television programmes, far from it. In one instant, the screens depict all sorts of images, shifting simultaneously. The screens show everything, from the ugly to the beautiful, the ordinary to the scandalous.
"Ashraf, your Chemistry teacher told me all about your achievements. At such a young age, you have already shown yourself to be an exceptional scientist. You really are my son." Dad tells me during dinner, a warm smile on his face.
Gerard and Osumare don’t know what they’re talking about.
For the past two years, I have worked so hard to gain Dad’s respect. I wanted him to notice my achievements and reward me, even if it was only a pat on the head like he always did when I was younger.
Are all my efforts finally starting to bear fruit? At his praise, I grin 'like a dog with two tails', as Gerard would say. "Thank you, Dad! I will continue to make you proud!"
"I believe you will. Now, genius scientist, can you help me with something?"
He retrieves something from his pocket. In his palm lies a tiny black square, as small as my 2mm microrobot. “Have you seen this before? Most citizens have it.”
"That's right, son... Anyone below the age of 15 will have it implanted into them at birth during immunisation, and for teens and adults, they get it through whatever vaccinations. Hopefully by the next 10 years every citizen will have one."
"What about you?"
“Oh no, I don’t have it, neither do you. Government personnel and their families get chip-free injections. If already implanted, they can get theirs disabled.”
Dad rolls his eyes, and I immediately regret asking such a dumb question. “Because the government has to serve the people. This chip not only tracks citizens’, but also functions as a camera, allowing us to see what they see."
What about their privacy? Before I can protest, Dad continues.
“Without understanding what they go through, how can we serve our citizens well?
"Especially those who commit dirty deeds thinking they can get away with it? How do you think we solved the serial killer case 6 years ago? How do you think we helped the silent sufferers of domestic violence?"
My eyes widen. I had been ignorant about the microchips' security benefits.
"Now, moving on to why I asked for your help. There’s been a glitch in the microchip that we have trouble resolving. Honestly, why didn’t the previous cabinet get rid of those old scientists? Now we face new problems but we’re stuck with their outdated methods. Perhaps you could provide us with a fresh perspective, given your incredible skills. So, can you help Daddy?"
“What did you do yesterday?” Osumare asks.
“Oh, just the usual.” I reply. Actually, I spent the afternoon working on the microchip for Dad, and ate dinner with him.
We catch up with each other until an “Oi!” interrupts us. Gerard has arrived in class, and sits down to join our conversation. I am listening to Gerard and Osumare banter and I glance at Gerard. As sudden as a lightning bolt, a thought strikes me: The mole above Gerard’s left eyebrow is slightly square shaped.
Like Dad’s microchip.
Dad said those below 15 years old will have it. Gerard is 14. He jumped one grade and joined Osumare and my cohort, even though he’s technically one year younger. While Osuamre and I don’t have the chip, Gerard definitely will… My mind starts to wander.
“Why are you staring at me? Ooh, do you find me attractive?”
“Stop flattering yourself!”
In the middle of lunch, Osumare suddenly puts her fork down. “Oh my god! You keep looking at Gerard and then looking in the opposite direction? Would you like to tell us what’s so interesting about his face?”
Nothing gets past her. I guess throughout the day, I have been looking at Gerard’s microchip unconsciously.
I try to brush it off, but Osumare is not letting me off. My friends keep pressuring me to the point where I am losing my sanity. I say, “Gerard’s mole- It’s actually a microchip.”
They look at me incredulously. I sigh, already dreading to explain the whole thing to them.
“Apparently those 14 years and below have them. Microchips that look like moles, to track people’s locations, and act as a camera to observe what people are doing.”
“Hold up! What do you mean camera?” Gerard glares at me accusingly, “You better tell us in detail.”
“When injected, the microchip flows in the bloodstream, circumventing its way through complex systems in the body, eventually reaching the cerebellum. For reliable interception of information transmitted from the eye to the brain, it implants itself somewhere on the forehead, thereby forming a small mole. In addition, the microchip makes use of thermal imaging capabilities and infrared radiation technology to map out surroundings of the person it is implanted into. The A.I. system developed by the government interprets these data into crisp images observable by humans.”
Osumare and Gerard are staring.
I rush to fill the awkward silence, “Anyway, Dad asked for my help to fix some glitch.”
“Do you even know enough to fix it? Doesn’t he have other, I don’t know, scientists? Anyway, it’s somehow implanted into people, to track their every move. Doesn’t that sound a bit off to you?”
“It’s to catch criminals. Remember those unsolvable murders a few years ago? They found something suspicious in one chip’s feed and traced it back to the killer.”
“Fine, but are you sure they’re only using it for innocent reasons?”
I am silent.
“No offense, but we can’t really trust your dad. We three should investigate further!”
I snort. Despite that, I feel a prickle of unease. Gerard’s everyday movements are being tracked, along with about tens of thousands of others. Governments are prone to corruption, and something as powerful as the chip can be dreadfully misused. What is Dad not telling me?
The door is ajar. My legs shake slightly as I enter. He sleeps on his side, clutching a pillow tightly.
Holding my breath, I go to the side of his bed, his back facing me. I press a micro-camera, which is about the same size as the microchip, behind his ear as gingerly as I can. It’s stuck fast. I move away from the bed.
I take one last look at his sleeping form before closing the door and going back to my room.
Sorry, Dad. This is the only way I can prove who you are.
My friends and I gather in class in the morning.
“Did my latex work?”
“Yes, Osumare, the camera stuck. I finished fixing the glitch yesterday. Dad was in a good mood, he even said he’s meeting the scientists today.” Then, I press play on the computer in front of us.
The video shows Dad going about his day, meeting the ministers, working in his office. All pretty normal. Then, we see him leaving a flying car, walking up the steps to some building. The screen is black for a while, then the building’s interior gets lit up. As Dad moves forward, we see rows and rows of computers flashing different colours.
“The government can observe what people are observing.” Osumare remarks. Indeed, footage from the every microchip on a citizen is being shown in this… Screening room.
“Wait, what’s that?” Gerard pauses the video, zooms in to one of the computer screens, tinted red, and presses play. It shows the wife of the Alliance Party’s leader yelling. Then a hand extends and slaps her.
That was the top trending video in Soviena this morning! Well, before it got taken down. It was a clip of Dad’s political rival, leader of the Alliance Party, clearly heard arguing with his wife, then slapping her. The most shocking thing was, it was posted by the Alliance Party’s account! Like he vlogged and posted it as a joke. But why would he sabotage himself like that? All these netizens calling for the Alliance Party to ‘sack this so-called leader who obviously has abusive issues’, with initial supporters of the Alliance Party beginning to switch sides.
Among the comments, we see a few netizens questioning the source of the video. I stop scrolling. I have a niggling suspicion.
Gerard ”Why does your dad have footage of the video? He could have uploaded it using the Alliance Party’s account! To undermine the opposition!”
I so badly want to dismiss Osumare and Gerard’s suspicion of Dad. I want to have faith in Dad, to believe that he would never stoop so low. Alas, my friends are right.
All throughout the video, we see so many scenes of so many citizens going about their lives- everyday scenery, friends talking, close-ups of people, phone screens, traffic. Even the most private moments appear on screen, and are being viewed.
By us. I balk.
I come to school feeling jittery. I spent all day trying to think of something appropriate to say to Dad. He didn’t pick up my calls, didn’t even come home.
Osumare pounces on me. “What’s with Gerard? It’s nine, he’s too late to be late. ”
He would have contacted us if he is ill. Osumare and I exchange worried glances.
Just then, the door swings open. Our form teacher, Mrs Lee, strides in with a serious expression on her face. “Class, I have some bad news. Our classmate Gerard… last night, he was placed under arrest for suspicion of being involved in sexual harassment. He is now at the police station, awaiting further questioning.”
A moment of silence, before chaos broke out.
‘Sexual harassment?’, ‘I can’t believe it! Gerard always seemed like such an innocent boy!’,’To think such a vile person was sharing the same classroom as us!’
“Gerard would never!” I rise to Gerard’s defense. “The Gerard I know is kind and friendly, and most of all, respectful of other people.”
Guilty looks cross our classmates’ faces. Many in our class are friends with Gerard, and anyone who knows him will find the claims outrageous. So who made the claims?
Osumare and I have no appetite. Our classmates file out for lunch, casting encouraging glances at us, but leaving us alone.
Then, an email arrives from the school, linked to an article. ’15-year-old teen molested PM’s secretary at an art exhibition’ the headline blared. I force myself to read the rubbish story. Then, a statement by Dad, ‘Sexual harassment, towards anyone, in any circumstance, is a serious offence. I will not stand for this. Rest assured, this boy will be dealt with severely.’
I feel sick. How did we forget that the government has access to all the microchips, including Gerard’s? Dad saw Gerard watching the computer footage. Dad knows we saw him in the screen room. And now Gerard’s gone.
Osumare stares straight at me. I know what she is thinking. She wants me to say it.
“You were right,” I choke out. “My dad is behind all of this.”
Before I still wanted to give my father a chance. No matter how naive Osumare thought I am, I could not just throw him under the bus. His blood runs in me.
Yet now, my blood is rushing, at the thought of exposing all his lies.
Osumare shoves the phone in my face. “We’re going to save Gerard before your dad gets to us. We need to record and upload something online.”
Dad likes to say social media is a powerful tool. I agree.
Gripping the phone tightly, I take a deep breath and start the recording. “Dear all, this is Ashraf Zulkifli, the son of the Prime Minister. The government has been keeping something from us.”
I talk about Gerard, the Alliance Party video. Osumare uploads it, together with the footage of Dad in the screening room.
Suddenly, we are overwhelmed with texts from our classmates. The views start rolling in. Amidst all the drama from the Alliance Party video, a few people must have sensed something off. Who would have filmed such a private video?
And what about all those people the government must have targeted, for having opposing views? Did they get removed by some sensationalised story or falsified crime?
The number of views are skyrocketing. Tens, hundreds, thousands. We are getting inundated by comments, some unbelieving, some angry. At least people are seeing the truth. They can choose to believe it later.
Just then, Osumare’s post gets deleted. I check the top left hand corner of my phone, there is no internet access.
“Curse your dad!” Osumare shouts. Looking around at the empty classroom, she grabs my hand. “Let’s go!”
“Let’s just go first, we will make plans as we go… What else do we do, sit here and wait for your Dad to get to us?”
I am dragged out. There, I can see a mob of students gathering. The lower secondary students. The microchip mole on every one of them is plain to see.
“You’re done spying! Give us our privacy!” their chant becomes increasingly clearer, with people joining the mob from all directions, converging on the main street. They are like a rising tide, threatening to sink the government.
“Sick!” Osumare hollers in excitement. “Let's join them!”
As we run towards the crowd, a moist cloth wraps around my face.
I awake to the sight of my father. “Where is Osumare?” I panic.
“She is safe… for now, at least. I have a couple of questions for you, son. If I am displeased with your answers, well, don’t blame me for what happens next.”
“First question.” Dad takes out his phone, and shows me the clip Osumare had uploaded. “What is the meaning of this?
“This video has spread across social media like wildfire. These accursed people keep uploading it! I ask you to help me with the microchip, not throw me under the bus! This plan is necessary to secure my position as Prime Minister! Have you seen the election? All the idiot supporters of the Alliance Party, all dying to get rid of me. I needed to eliminate them before they eliminate me! Now it's all ruined!
I know you want my praise and recognition - well congratulations, you have just shown yourself to be nothing but a huge disappointment!"
Dad’s secretary, Steven, barges in. “Sir, we have to leave now, the protestors are turning into rioters who are overwhelming the police. Your safety is at stake, please come with me immediately!”
“Damn it! It's all your fault! It’s over between us." Dad screams.
Outside the government office, thousands gather leading the public outcry against the Social Democratic Party, including many who once sided with the Social Democratic Party. More and more join the protest, fighting for their right to privacy and freedom.
I run to join the people.
A month later, the Alliance Party takes over. My father has been detained, while Gerard and Osumare released. Gerard, Osumare and I are celebrated as heroes, having played a monumental role in exposing the dirty secrets of the Social Democratic Party.
In a world where governments are increasingly prioritising surveillance over the freedom of individuals, the people must remain conscious and seek to strike a balance between the two.