Disclaimer: This contains minor spoilers for the first episode of the third series of Black Mirror.
Imagine living in a world where your every move is monitored by the government - from what you last purchased online and whether you do all of your taxes on time, to how much time on an average you spend online and even how you interact with your friends when you meet them. How does that feel?
Sure, these can be monitored even now, right? But what if we told you that you will be rated for each move you make, and that will dictate your ‘social credit’ in society, based on which people can decide if you’re ‘trustworthy’? If the very thought gives you goosebumps, welcome to China’s Social Credit System that is to be made mandatory by 2020.
It was June 14, 2014, that China’s State Council published an outline for the creation of a Social Credit System, which defines: “a social credit system is an important component part of the Socialist market economy system... It is founded on laws, regulations, standards and charters. It is based on a complete network covering the credit records of members of society and credit infrastructure.”
Don’t let the big words throw you off. Simply stated, it means that residents of China will be ‘rated’ in four areas: administrative affairs, commercial activities, social behaviour, and the law enforcement system.
All the data and information collected by local governments on each citizen will be accumulated in one centralised system and based on what the government thinks is ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ aspects, you will be assigned a number that will dictate how trustworthy you are, as a human being. This number will be compared to that of others around you, and you will be judged when you decide to take a loan, go for a job interview, decide to enroll your kids in a school, among others.
The cherry on the cake is that your scores are also affected by the kinds of friends you make and the interactions you have with those around you. So, if you happen to be acquainted with a person who has a low score and is deemed ‘untrustworthy’, your score is also likely to drop. So, you will be the company you keep. Literally.
Yes, it eerily does. If you’ve been a fan of one of Netflix’s most popular shows, Black Mirror, you know this is straight out of the first episode of the third series, titled ‘Nosedive’. Poor Lacie is sucked into the void of personal validation that determines every aspect of her life, from buying a house and renting a car for commute, to even dictating what seats she is eligible for while checking in for a flight at the airport!
The right to privacy is a concept that has been hugely debated across publications, media houses, news channels, and social media, for years now. We are all told and familiarised with the fact that ‘Big Brother’ is watching us all and quietly gathering all possible information on us, thanks to the advent of technology. Google Maps tracking our location, and Facebook and Instagram monitoring our geo-tags are just at the tip of the enormous iceberg of information that can be collected with us just using our cell phones. But what happens when the system goes as far as to dictate what’s right and wrong, to make us trustworthy enough to secure jobs and allow us loans for our financial needs?
Dissent is necessary and vital for a society that comprises of human beings. We make mistakes, and it is the beauty of these mistakes, that we are allowed to correct them and start afresh, with a clean slate. Are we supposed to blindly follow the government and not question the policies if they don’t cater to our needs and wants?
And in which universe is it okay to decide that MY “social credit score” will impact the educational institute my future kids will get into? Who made man the ‘God’ of judgement day, and decide which of us get into the ‘heavenly’ good books of the lawmakers and which of us are damned to the pits of hell for outcasts and ‘untrustworthy’ actions?
If every human being is to be the same, and categorised into one box of RIGHT and another of WRONG, why even bother with human beings and not let the machines take over immediately?
Let’s make it easier for the rise of the machines. As humans, we are clearly not doing a good enough job, are we?