Every move you make, every step you take, they’ll be watching you – the Chinese government, that is. The communist nation says it is on track to launch its “Social Credit” system in real time for 2020.
The dystopian-esque system monitors, tracks, and ranks Chinese citizens based on a combination of factors used to then assign individuals a numerical score. These scores can then make or break a person, in some cases awarding them with VIP access to certain institutions. In other cases, wrongdoers could be blacklisted from government resources, including access to schools or transportation. Overall scores can fluctuate in real time depending on an individual’s behavior and how those around them are impacted.
Built on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, government documents say the ranking system will build a “harmonious Socialist society” that will perfect the market economy system, accelerate and innovate social governance, and strengthen the consciousness of citizens. Already, some 600 million high-tech surveillance cameras are employed to monitor China’s 1.4 billion citizens – 20 times the amount already employed in the US. According to Channel News Asia, more than 9 million people have been banned from buying plane tickets and another 3 million from buying business class tickets since mandatory pilot programs were first implemented in 2014.
All day, every day a person’s every move is tracked and judged using artificial intelligence to recognize a person and cross-reference their government records – including medical, financial, and legal documents. The software then crunches the numbers to give individuals a social credit score capped at 800.
Scores get boosted for positive acts, such as paying the bills on time, partaking in charity, sorting recycling, and obeying traffic laws. Good scores give people access to perks like cheaper public transportation and shorter wait times for hospital services, reports Science Alert. But do wrong and you can expect life to become increasingly more difficult. According to an official Chinese source, the program’s motto is to “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” For those who display behavior deemed unacceptable by the government, some outlets speculate rule-breakers can expect penalties like fines, limited admissions to schools, throttled Internet speeds, and even blocked job opportunities.
While some argue the ranking program is a way to ensure people are always on their best behavior, others say it takes a step beyond monitoring citizens and aims to control and influence them in a game of “algorithmic governance”.