The tyranny of algorithms to determine lives

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What kind of a citizen are you? Are you loyal to the political party? The president? Do you show how patriotic you are on a daily basis? How many loyalty points will you receive today?

 

While reading about China’s Social Credit System, some of you may recall the Big Brother from Orwell’s 1984 and a vision created by the scriptwriters of Black Mirror in the “Node Dive” episode. SCS, which in other words is nothing but a citizen ranking and blacklisting mechanism, is planned to be launched nationwide by 2020 by the Chinese government and is intended to rate the trustworthiness of the country’s over a billion citizens. Published almost 4 years ago, on 15th June 2014, the official rhetoric is indeed poetic in its claims that the system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

In theory, the Chinese government’s idea is nothing new. After all, today’s information on our behavior, what we do, who we are friends with, who we contact, what we buy online and what we watch is already processed by Facebook, Google, Instagram and other giants in the field of technology. However, the Chinese government went a step further. In addition to collecting data, it intends to evaluate all information on the behavior of individuals, their customs and contacts, and then to mark each citizen with a specific value, calculated according to government rules that are so far unknown to the public.

But that’s not all. The assessment given to a citizen will be public so that all other people can see whether a given person is – according to a rating determined by the government – trustworthy. At the same time, the term “trustworthy” shall carry broad social implications in the form of specific rights.

8 technical giants of the Chinese Internet-focused companies such as Tencent, WeChat (an alternative for Facebook) and Sesame Credit (the creators of AliPay) affiliated with Alibaba Group are responsible for the practical implementation of this project.

 

Software vs. Morality

Such control system models the class division of a society, segregates citizens into better and worse, those with and without privileges. According to the officials, it will eliminate anything that may be subject to risk from the point of view of the state, namely undesirable behaviors and disobedience.

Disloyal citizens ought to await punishment as a form of social exclusion. People with low scores will not be able get a loan or a job in a better paid sector. They will also have problems accessing the Internet, some restaurants, nightclubs, as well as renting cars and traveling by public means of transport, they won’t be able to decide where their children will go to school or what they will learn.

Of course, those with better scores will enjoy a wide range of privileges. A total of 650 points will be enough to get, among others, the possibility of renting a car or bike without leaving a deposit, a quick loan for online shopping, a guarantee of a faster check-in at hotels, a better job or the possibility to use the VIP checkpoint at the International Beijing airport. How can these be achieved? By doing voluntary work, donating blood, recycling, etc.

 

The wrongdoers’ toll so far

This kind of surveillance within government’s grasp has already started taking place. In early 2017, during a press conference, the country’s Supreme People’s Court said that 6.15 million Chinese citizens had been banned from flying for social misconduct. Apart from that, according to Marketplace (https://www.marketplace.org/2018/02/13/world/social-credit-score-china-blacklisted), the system has already been used to reject loan requests to the citizens that have already been discredited.

 

One thing is certain tough. Such system does not bode well for the future. Could it be contagious? Let’s consider one thing. The Western world is already mass controlled whether we realize and accept it or not.


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