During this year’s Spring Festival travel rush, more than 400 million passengers are expected to criss-cross China – more than all the US inhabitants combined.
To streamline this mass migration, stations in several cities will roll out a facial recognition system to check tickets. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Face recog technology will have the Chinese covering their faces in no time
Not so fast, the technology is just one of the components of a broader drive to condition the Chinese populace via a system of sticks and carrots – the Social Credit System.
The system aims to reinforce the idea that, in the words of the Chinese government, “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”
The social credit system has been custom-programmed to recognize certain features and correlate these with the records stored in central database.
The technology behind it is essentially artificial intelligence (AI) on steroids – incorporating elements of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (AR), including advanced imaging and tracking.
China’s facial recognition system is capable of matching faces to a database of 1.3 billion ID photos
China’s facial recognition system is capable of matching faces to a database of 1.3 billion ID photos with a target of 90 % accuracy.
The system will be used for security and government purposes, such as public administration and tracking wanted suspects.
The further technology takes us, the more potential for its exploitation grows logarithmically
Various cities have already started using facial recognition to name and shame minor offenders, spot criminals and verify passengers at airports.
Traffic police in Shenzhen started displaying photos, names and partial ID numbers of jaywalkers online.
All good, what could possibly go wrong? Not so fast – this seemingly innocuous solution is part of a larger undertaking with potentially sinister aims.
These mug shot-style photos actually refer to those who are well-behaved
Come for your official spanking
The technology behind the Social Credit System tracks those who break the law via a blacklist, and monitor and alert authorities of any illegal activities.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has a lot to control – and a lot to smile about…
The Chinese notion of credit – or xinyong – has a cultural meaning that relates to moral ideas of honesty and trust.
At the time of this writing, there are up to 30 local social credit pilots run by local authorities, in large cities such as Shanghai and Hangzhou, in addition to much smaller towns.
Your name on the list?
Your punishment should the system evaluate you as falling out of favor with the government and veer off the official party line, could throw you off.
They include being unable to secure loans, or being placed on a public blacklist which can bar people from all sorts of things.
Surveillance technology is at the center of China’s AI population control front
Here are some of the ways of conditioning of what are considered unwholesome or unruly subjects:
1. Banning you from flying or getting the train
2. Throttling your internet speeds
3. Banning you — or your kids — from the best schools
4. Stopping you getting the best jobs
5. Keeping you out of the best hotels
6. Getting your dog taken away
7. Being publicly named as a bad citizen
Come get your carrots
The system of rewards may seem akin to that used in the west – credit reports -, the only difference on the surface seems to be government vs. private enforcement. Then again in the west, if one is not happy with a credit score, you can shop around for a loan at a different bank …
If you are a Chinese citizen, the rewards for doing good can get you discounts on energy bills and higher interest rates on savings at banks.
In addition to that, if you find yourself on the government’s good side, you can look forward to lower fees on bike rentals, get access to loftier rooms at top hotels without paying a deposit, Foreign Policy reported.
George Soros’ open society critique
This recent activity on part of the Chinese has caught the attention of George Soros – a global philanthropist and an undying champion of Popper’s open society:
“I want to call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes. I’ll focus on China, where Xi Jinping wants a one-party state to reign supreme,” Soros said.
Is China becoming a police state on virtual reality steroids?
Control ’em locally
In the meantime, eight ostensibly private companies have been testing a different set of rating systems, which seem to chime with the government’s controlling objectives.
Post Tiananmen, the Chinese have also discovered heat maps to keep tabs on the population
Eastern Chinese city of Rongcheng has introduced its own social credit system:
It first assigns 1,000 points to every adult, and adds and subtracts points depending on the individuals’ behavior. Here’s what some of the city’s local heroes did:
Bi Haoran, a 24-year-old policeman, pushed students out the way of a car that crashed into a crowd one evening.
Yuan Suoping, 55, who took care of her bed-ridden mother-in-law, and even insisted that she move into the house shared by her and her new husband.
Has China taken a hint from Spielberg’s pre-crime idea in his famous 2002 film Minority Report?
Surprise, the Germans weigh in
A group of researchers in Germany also took up this subject, analyzing up to 194,829 behavioral records and 942 governmental reports on citizens’ “good” and “bad” behavior.
Next, they proceeded to make a list of deeds that could bring about positive credit. Here is their contribution to humanity:
- Helping take care of disabled people.
- Donating to college funds for poor students.
- Caring for elderly people, even when they aren’t related.
- Missing meals to help vegetable farmers harvest their crops
- Repaying a loan even after a bank has cancelled it.