dystopia China

China is becoming the world's first digital dictatorship

China has mastered new technologies and is becoming a leader in this 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.
George Orwell, the author of1984 and creator of Big Brotherin 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.

Social Credit

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.
Each Chinese citizen has a capital of 800 points to the credit of his 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.
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 being imposed financial penalties or restrictions on one's freedoms increases. This is how the Chinese government manages the economy and society. A form of digital dictatorship based on algorithmic governance.

All-round monitoring

The Chinese government is thus discovering how new technologies can be used to serve it in an enterprise of total control over the country and its people. Every day we discover new advances in the construction of this dystopian world. Last February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched a alert. According to her, Chinese authorities are using an algorithm to make preventive arrests in the troubled Xinjiang region in the far west of the country.
A computer system can thus analyse global individual data obtained from the images shot by video surveillance cameras: identity card or number plate checks carried out at security checkpoints are particularly numerous in Xinjiang, as are bank movements, health data, WiFi telephone or computer connections or legal files.
" For the first time, we are able to demonstrate that the Chinese government's use of big data and predictive policing methods is not only a gross violation of the right to privacy, but also allows arbitrary detention. "Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based HRW researcher, told Reuters agency Maya Wang. « The people of Xinjiang cannot resist or challenge this increasingly intrusive surveillance of their daily lives because most of them do not even know about the existence of this 'black box' program or how it works. "
At the end of last year, strange sunglasses appeared in the arsenal of Chinese police officers. According to the Wall Street Journal, police in Zhengzhou, China, were spotted wearing sunglasses equipped with facial recognition software that allows them to identify individuals in a crowd in 1/10th of a second.
With the concept of "social credit", the Chinese authorities have just taken a new step forward. Mass surveillance no longer only concerns individuals but also companies. Whether they are Chinese or foreign, their behaviour is under close scrutiny. 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.

Resignation and force of habit

The Chinese have, more or less willingly, agreed to be the most watched people in the world. Ubiquitous facial recognition systems are undermining whole swathes of citizens' privacy every day. But, curiously for our Western eyes, a kind of resignation, a force of habit, seems to have taken hold in China. Social credit" is even seen by many Chinese as a means of improving the quality of life of citizens in the long term.
Chinese people interviewed by Australian journalist Matthew Carney for his remarkable documentary on the subject said: " Social credit is not a perfect system, but it is the best way to manage a complex country with the largest population in the world. I think people in all countries want a stable and secure society. "Dandan, a citizen interviewed by the reporter added, " If, as our government says, every corner of the public space is equipped with cameras, I will feel safe. "It should be noted that Dandan has a score of 773 out of 800 on his social credit, which gives him access to special privileges such as renting a car, a hotel room or a house without a deposit.
Leave no dark cornera documentary by Matthew Carney for ABC News:
Dandan is happy, for now, because his social behaviour seems to be beyond reproach. But she'll have to watch out for her friends or her parents. The behaviour of those around her is a factor in her social score. If Dandan's father were to venture a few disparaging remarks against the government, there is no doubt that his daughter would immediately - and automatically - be penalized by the heartless algorithms of China's new dictatorial system.
Sources: The New York Times, Abc News

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