Black mirror comes to life

By Alan Eagle Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/29 16:33:40

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

China's introduction of a "social credit" system has raised dark comparisons to George Orwell and the dystopian television series Black Mirror (2011-).

However, as I remembered that the first time my mother figured out how to track me down and send me messages at work on an instant messenger was almost 20 years ago, I realized the future is coming whether we like it or not.

The social credit system is making the world more like a small town again, with everybody knowing everyone else's business.

In a small town, everyone knows who is a good lover, who cheats on their spouse, who has money problems, who drinks too much and everyone's salary. We are moving into a world where all this knowledge will be readily available to everybody.

The puzzle pieces are already in place, with websites like LinkedIn and offering professional evaluations. It's only a matter of time before all sorts of personal evaluations are public. In China, this time is soon.

People are understandably very worried about the potential for abuse by a social credit system, seeing it as a step toward a totalitarian system. But let's have a reality check for a moment. Phone companies can already track your every move, as anyone who has ordered a taxi knows. Conversations you think are private can be monitored by the government. If you want proof, look at how the recent Austin bombing suspect was tracked down. Or better yet, look at the net closing around President Donald Trump, woven from massive surveillance of everything from travel itineraries to phone conversations.

One of the creepiest aspects of the social credit system is that people are measuring how you behave and how to manipulate you. But hasn't that already happened with companies that track your online behavior, purchasing habits and credit records to send you targeted advertising? Or in a more sinister manner, what about companies like Cambridge Analytica that gather data from many sources, including your social media activity, and make psychological profiles to manipulate your political views based on your hopes, fears and personality type?

The paradox of a Chinese social credit system is that despite its dark side, it's bound to be very popular. Chinese people are already proudly displaying the scores assigned to them by Alibaba's Sesame Credit, which is running a pilot social credit system for the government.

People will find it very useful to know if the people they are dealing with can competently manage their finances and are trustworthy and reliable.

It is inevitable that all societies will develop some public metrics to measure these things.

I ask you this question: Would you rather have this information in the dark controlled by shadowy corporations or publicized by the government? Frankly, this is not a choice that many of us would want to make. Nor is it a choice we can make. We can just keep our eyes open going into the future and do our best to mitigate the risks of these technologies while maximizing the benefits.

And, we could all be a little nicer and less naughty because someone like Santa Claus is surely making a list and checking twice every little thing we do.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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