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Tomorrow’s world

How Beijing could turn off all our lights

Something to look forward to: traffic chaos in The Italian Job (1969)

Many people might not mind if their fridge was “spying on them for China”, says Charles Parton in The Spectator. But they probably would mind if Beijing stopped the fridge from working altogether. And that’s not as far-fetched as you may think. Hiding in everything from our cars to our computers are cellular modules: tiny components that monitor and run our devices remotely. The problem is, whoever makes them also has ultimate control over them – and China has gradually been establishing a monopoly on supply. Using simple software updates, Beijing could remotely cut off electricity supplies to all these devices at any moment.

The possibilities are endless – and terrifying. The Chinese could disable traffic light systems, bringing cities to a “grinding halt”. They could render planes unfit for take-off, or make office work impossible by adjusting air con levels. They could even interfere with the administering of drugs for a particular patient having an operation, “a novel way of assassinating a government minister”. Any such action would of course be tantamount to a declaration of war, which is something Beijing presumably wants to avoid. But Western governments should do more to “prevent greater penetration and thereby risk”. Because this really is “the stuff of nightmares”.