For anyone that has seen the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” that is on Netflix, recent developments in China can sound all too familiar in terms of how the social structure for people is determined. In the episode, the directors depict a world where people are given scores by their peers and are awarded access to resources and entrance into places depending on the quality of their score.
The episode documents a woman that, at the beginning of the episode, was not too far away from being at the score that would be considered elite and award her exclusive access to things others don’t have access to, but, by the end of the episode, she is on the side of the street begging for someone of any score to pick her up and drive her home.
While the directors created this type of episode to scare viewers of what the future with advancing technology might look like, this type of society might not be too far from happening in China. Earlier this month, it was revealed that China is leading the race to become the first to implement a pervasive system of algorithmic surveillance. Using facial recognition and artificial intelligence, the system would essentially give each citizen a “score” to encourage good behavior. A vast accompanying network of surveillance cameras will constantly monitor citizen’s every movements, they say in the hopes to reduce crime and terrorism.
A goal of the government is also to track what people say about the regime and have the capability to punish those who speak down towards them, but they of course haven’t come right out and said that as that might sound too alarming. The country has long been associated with condemning its citizens from saying anything bad about the government; however, the development of this technology may now allow China to punish citizens that speak out against what the government is doing.
The technology has the capability to essentially watch your every move. Saying positive things online about the government could award the individual faster internet service or a VISA so they can travel out of the country, while saying negative things about the regime could lead to a lower score and no access to those things.
This development extends into the business world as well. Although there have been financial systems that are able to track a person’s history of transactions for a credit history for a while now, this new technology would enable a lender to learn about the potential borrower’s online shopping data based upon their score. There is a great possibility that China could reward its citizens a higher score for buying products that the regime likes, say products that have been made by companies that knowingly endorse the government, while punishing the citizen and give them a lower score for buying products the regime does not like, like guns or video games. The things they choose to buy could determine the score they can attain, which could then determine the opportunities they have in the future.
This technology also has the ability to control who the individual wants their friends to be. The country could decide to implement that if your friends do something wrong, your own score lowers. If the individual does something that the regime considers “wrong,” friends and family may choose to no longer associate with this person in the fear of their score lowering and being allowed less access to things. Essentially, this system would thwart out any creative thinking or divergent thinking from the general mass, especially those of which that stand in opposition to the government.
The new system is already starting to be implemented. As of right now, there are 176 million cameras in China that watch citizens’ movements, but it is expected that by 2020 there will be 450 million installed. In addition, 100% of Beijing is currently blanketed by surveillance cameras, according to the Beijing Public Safety Bureau . These surveillance cameras can detect someone’s face who is jaywalking across a street and alert local authorities who could show up to the person’s apartment to detain them later that day; that’s how powerful this technology is.
In news closer to home, an app had been developed in the United States in November 2015 named Peeple that had a similar feel in that citizens were rated by their peers and given a score based upon personal, professional, and dating areas. Not only could you rate people, but you could also comment positive and negative reviews on the person’s profile for them to see. The app was immediately taken off the market after public backlash; however, not before it was valued at $7.6 million.
China pioneering this new type of technology could revolutionize the way countries handle catching criminals. In that aspect, I believe that it could be very effective. Having so many surveillance cameras could no doubt help to solve the crimes of murders and robbery. However, for other crimes such as jaywalking, I do not think the police should worry so much about that as to not waste time that could be spent on more trivial matters. In terms of China using this as a means to control what their citizens think and say about the government, I find it incredibly unethical. It is a very convenient way for them to selectively breed out critical, independent thinking that is different from what the regime wants. It is uncertain when exactly this new system will be in place but I think it would be very smart for the United States to keep an eye out for what is happening in Chinese technologies.