Documenting the Coming Singularity

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Tyranny of the Algorithm - Measuring "Social Credit"

By John Harris on The Guardian

Credit scores already control our finances. With personal data being increasingly trawled, our politics and our friendships will be next.

or the past couple of years a big story about the future of China has been the focus of both fascination and horror. It is all about what the authorities in Beijing call “social credit”, and the kind of surveillance that is now within governments’ grasp. The official rhetoric is poetic. According to the documents, what is being developed will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

As China moves into the newly solidified President Xi Jinping era, the basic plan is intended to be in place by 2020. Some of it will apply to businesses and officials, so as to address corruption and tackle such high-profile issues as poor food hygiene. But other elements will be focused on ordinary individuals, so that transgressions such as dodging transport fares and not caring sufficiently for your parents will mean penalties, while living the life of a good citizen will bring benefits and opportunities.

Online behaviour will inevitably be a big part of what is monitored, and algorithms will be key to everything, though there remain doubts about whether something so ambitious will ever come to full fruition. One of the scheme’s basic aims is to use a vast amount of data to create individual ratings, which will decide people’s access – or lack of it – to everything from travel to jobs.


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