China is building a digital dictatorship to exert control over its 1.4 billion citizens. For some, “social credit” will bring privileges — for others, punishment.
Dandan Fan is very much the modern Chinese woman.
A marketing professional, she’s diligent and prosperous — in many ways she’s a model Chinese citizen.
But Dandan is being watched 24 hours a day.
A vast network of 200 million CCTV cameras across China ensures there’s no dark corner in which to hide.
Every step she takes, every one of her actions big or small — even what she thinks — can be tracked and judged.
And Dandan says that’s fine with her.
What may sound like a dystopian vision of the future is already happening in China. And it’s making and breaking lives.
The Communist Party calls it “social credit” and says it will be fully operational by 2020.
Within years, an official Party outline claims, it will “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.
Social credit is like a personal scorecard for each of China’s 1.4 billion citizens.
In one pilot program already in place, each citizen has been assigned a score out of 800. In other programs it’s 900.
Those, like Dandan, with top “citizen scores” get VIP treatment at hotels and airports, cheap loans and a fast track to the best universities and jobs.
“It will allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”
Those at the bottom can be locked out of society and banned from travel, or barred from getting credit or government jobs.
The system will be enforced by the latest in high-tech surveillance systems as China pushes to become the world leader in artificial intelligence.
Surveillance cameras will be equipped with facial recognition, body scanning and geo-tracking to cast a constant gaze over every citizen.
Smartphone apps will also be used to collect data and monitor online behaviour on a day-to-day basis.
Then, big data from more traditional sources like government records, including educational and medical, state security assessments and financial records, will be fed into individual scores.
Trial social credit systems are now in various stages of development in at least a dozen cities across China.
Several companies are working with the state to nationalise the system, co-ordinate and configure the technology, and finalise the algorithms that will determine the national citizen score.
It’s probably the largest social engineering project ever attempted, a way to control and coerce more than a billion people.