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China's moving into a world that even Orwell wouldn't have dared imagine...

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You are ready to go on holiday, your luggage is packed, your rooms are booked; there is only one problem: the government has cancelled your tickets. This is happening in China and tens of millions of Chinese people are being punished because their "social credit score" has been downgraded. An Orwellian means of surveillance invented by the Chinese Communist Party to keep the population on a leash.
 
Ahina has mastered new technologies and is becoming a leader in the field before our very eyes. Big data, facial recognition and predictive algorithms no longer hold any secrets for the Chinese; they have become masters of them. In other countries, the development of new technologies is made to improve people's lives. That was the credo of Silicon Valley's early days. But in China, new technologies are meant to monitor people's lives. In every corner of their lives. The Middle Kingdom is building a gigantic social network of 1.4 billion people. Each of them is rated according to their behaviour in daily life, scanned in the slightest gesture by 200 million surveillance cameras. The state's algorithms then calculate each person's "social credit". Sesame or obstacle to getting around or benefiting from public services.
 

First digital dictatorship in the world

George Orwell, the 1984 author and creator of Big Brother...even in his worst nightmares, hadn't imagined such dystopia. An entire population of more than a billion people, watched in the slightest of its gestures and noted according to its behaviours. An algorithmic note attached to each citizen, the synthesis of total and massive control: China is becoming the world's first digital dictatorship.
 
Trying to cross the street when the light's green? Your face is instantly recognized by the surveillance camera installed nearby and a voice broadcast by a loudspeaker tells you to immediately step back and return to the sidewalk. It's not just a traffic safety injunction. In fact, your "social score" will instantly drop by a few points as a punishment for this incivility.
Since 2014, the authorities have been experimenting with "social credit" throughout China. Each Chinese citizen has a capital of 800 points to the credit of his or her social score. At any time he can lose some and his balance, updated in real time, is intimately associated with his identity. If your score is good, you will be able to move around, take a plane, move around freely, access services. If not, you are sentenced to house arrest and quickly become a pariah of society. Points are deducted for breaking the law or, in some areas, for such minor offences as walking a dog without a leash.
 

Universal social credit

Because social credit affects every part of your life. Indeed, thanks to the magic of big data, visual recognition systems are connected with the fiscal, financial, legal and medical data of each citizen. The data is processed in real time by mega-servers full of artificial intelligence. Therefore, to get a good social score, it is not enough to simply cross the street at a red light; you must also pay your bills on time, sort your waste, do volunteer work, not smoke in public places, etc. The social score is the synthesis of an individual's entire civic life. This score is the key to, for example, accessing credit more easily or avoiding queues in hospital services.
 
With each offence, the social score decreases and the risk of financial penalties or interference with one's freedoms increases. This is how the Chinese government manages the economy and society. A form of digital dictatorship based on algorithmic governance.
According to aAssociated PressLast year, 17.5 million airline tickets were blocked for "social credit" offences, including unpaid taxes and fines, under a system that the ruling Communist Party says will improve people's behaviour. Others have been banned 5.5 million times from buying train tickets, according to the National Public Credit Information Center.
 
The ruling party says the penalties and rewards of "social credit" will improve order in a rapidly changing society after three decades of economic reforms that have disrupted social structures. The system is part of President Xi Jinping's government's efforts to use technologies ranging from data processing to gene sequencing and facial recognition to strengthen control.
The Chinese Communist Party wants a national system by 2020, but has not yet specified in detail how it will work. Possible sanctions include restrictions on travel, business and access to education. A slogan is currently being repeated in the state media; it sets the tone: "The Chinese Communist Party wants a national system by 2020, but has not yet specified in detail how it will work. Once you lose the trust we have in you, you will face restrictions everywhere."
 

Companies under high surveillance

Mass surveillance no longer only concerns individuals but also companies, which also have their "social score". Blacklisted companies may lose government contracts or access to bank loans, or be banned from issuing bonds or importing goods.
According to the government's information centre, last year's "social credit" offences included misleading advertising or violating drug safety rules. 290,000 people were prevented from holding senior management positions or acting as a legal representative of a company.
 
Whether they are Chinese or foreign companies, their behaviour is closely scrutinised. To this end, we relations in our columns how some companies have equipped themselves with "emotional monitoring" tools to monitor, in real time, the emotional state of their employees. Lightweight sensors built into workers' headgear or helmets wirelessly transmit brain wave data from the wearer to a computer - it probably works a bit like an electroencephalogram (EEG), as the MIT Tech Review. Then, artificial intelligence algorithms scan the data for outliers that could indicate anxiety or anger.
 
This massive surveillance began as early as 2000 with the establishment by the Ministry of Police of the "Golden Shield", a nationwide digital network to track individuals. In some regions, digital surveillance is being combined with genetic surveillance. Human rights activists claim that people in Muslim regions and other ethnic minorities have been forced to give blood samples to build up a genetic database. As many as 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are being held in political education camps, according to U.S. officials and U.N. experts. The government says the camps are vocational training centers designed to rid the region of extremism.
 
 

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