China announces it is scoring its citizens using big data
May 5, 2015 2:34 PM   Subscribe

China rates its own citizens - including online behaviour: "The Chinese government is currently implementing a nationwide electronic system, called the Social Credit System, attributing to each of its 1,3 billion citizens a score for his or her behavior. The system will be based on various criteria, ranging from financial credibility and criminal record to social media behavior. From 2020 onwards each adult citizen should, besides his identity card, have such a credit code."

see also...
THE SCORED SOCIETY: DUE PROCESS FOR AUTOMATED PREDICTIONS (via)
Big Data is increasingly mined to rank and rate individuals. Predictive algorithms assess whether we are good credit risks, desirable employees, reliable tenants, valuable customers—or deadbeats, shirkers, menaces, and “wastes of time.” Crucial opportunities are on the line, including the ability to obtain loans, work, housing, and insurance. Though automated scoring is pervasive and consequential, it is also opaque and lacking oversight. In one area where regulation does prevail—credit—the law focuses on credit history, not the derivation of scores from data.

Procedural regularity is essential for those stigmatized by “artificially intelligent” scoring systems. The American due process tradition should inform basic safeguards. Regulators should be able to test scoring systems to ensure their fairness and accuracy. Individuals should be granted meaningful opportunities to challenge adverse decisions based on scores miscategorizing them. Without such protections in place, systems could launder biased and arbitrary data into powerfully stigmatizing scores.
Cathy O'Neil writes: "Given my research over the past couple of years, I see this kind of 'social credit scoring' being widely implemented here in the United States."
posted by kliuless (77 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gamified totalitarianism. That's something new.
posted by Artw at 2:37 PM on May 5, 2015 [32 favorites]


Is this really that different from a credit score?
posted by miyabo at 2:41 PM on May 5, 2015 [11 favorites]




Artw: "Gamified totalitarianism. That's something new."

It was sort of anticipated in Extras.
posted by signal at 2:43 PM on May 5, 2015


There's no public leaderboard?
posted by aubilenon at 2:43 PM on May 5, 2015 [22 favorites]


So, another way for people with money or connections to abuse. It even explicitly rates your friends and buying habits...
posted by halifix at 2:45 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you tighten your criterion enough you can select for a few ideal citizens, and a hell of a lot of sociopaths and insincere people.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:46 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is this really that different from a credit score?

it's a little, er, more comprehensive! (<--link should have gone under 'Social Credit System' in the FPP /demerit ;)
posted by kliuless at 2:47 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


New or not, it's definitely scary.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:47 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whuffie! Doctorow must be so proud...
posted by straw at 2:52 PM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Time to reread Stand on Zanzibar and The Shockwave Rider.

Bruner was a prophet.
posted by ocschwar at 2:52 PM on May 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Whuffie! Doctorow must be so proud...

Except whuffie (so far as I can tell; been familiar with the concept for a while but never read Down and Out) wasn't the top-down imposition of a totalitarian regime. I don't think he'd be proud at all.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:58 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Unimaginable in the West?"

They learned it from the West. Are you kidding? This is the pot calling the kettle black. We have twenty years or more, on them.
posted by Oyéah at 2:58 PM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


As we count all the Science Fiction authors whose dystopian visions included the scenarios playing out today, I must recall all the Cold War policymakers who considered "1984" to be a how-to book. (more on one side than the other, but not by nearly as wide a margin as some may wish)
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:01 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Yearly reminder: unless you're over 60, you weren't promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go." --Kyle Marquis
posted by entropicamericana at 3:03 PM on May 5, 2015 [49 favorites]


I thought we'd be wearing nicer clothes In The cyberpunk dystopia but here we are.
posted by The Whelk at 3:16 PM on May 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


Man, I can't wait for social gold farmers. I can just pay someone to praise the government and condemn Falun Gong for me!
posted by klangklangston at 3:18 PM on May 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


I thought we'd be wearing nicer clothes In The cyberpunk dystopia but here we are.

I'm just glad there's still denim. All the dystopias seem to have huge denim shortages.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:21 PM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is no legitimate scientific institution. They're just a think tank for the PRC government. There are no philosophers or scientists there.
posted by polymodus at 3:22 PM on May 5, 2015


"They learned it from the West. Are you kidding? This is the pot calling the kettle black. We have twenty years or more, on them."

Yeah, so, this is where you step over the line from being skeptical of Western government into a perverse Western narcissistic exceptionalism. The West does not have 20 years on China's surveillance state, and the combination of big data and this explicit social modeling is innovative. Don't let your knee-jerk blame-us-first reaction preclude giving credit where it's due.
posted by klangklangston at 3:22 PM on May 5, 2015 [33 favorites]


"I thought we'd be wearing nicer clothes In The cyberpunk dystopia but here we are."

uh i guess if you like leather dusters
posted by klangklangston at 3:23 PM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


How long until they introduce stack ranking?
posted by indubitable at 3:24 PM on May 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is no legitimate scientific institution.

update social_score set credit=credit-1 where citizen='polymodus';
posted by ocschwar at 3:34 PM on May 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I comfort myself with the thought that if this system is ever implemented successfully, it will be gamed to complete irrelevance.
posted by hat_eater at 3:42 PM on May 5, 2015


The West does not have 20 years on China's surveillance state

The West is certainly providing China with many powerful surveillance technologies it would not otherwise have developed on its own, given the same time frame.

Among those aggressively vying to be part of this new security boom was Joseph Atick, now an executive at L-1. The name he chose for his plan to integrate facial-recognition software into a vast security network was uncomfortably close to the surveillance system being constructed in China: "Operation Noble Shield."

So it goes.

the combination of big data and this explicit social modeling is innovative

An average American's credit score is used for all kinds of purposes it wasn't originally intended for, and it is intertwined with one's personal identity in very deep ways. Background checks, for instance, will link your criminal record (or lack thereof) with places of residence that were generally only known to credit card companies. In a sense, it is suspicious not to have a good credit record, insofar as it means you aren't consuming in traceable or profitable ways, which makes you a security risk, in addition to a bad investment.

How long until they introduce stack ranking?

Perhaps when climate change and pollution worsen to the point of farming collapse and mass starvation. Antisocial credit scores get turned into a nutritious source of protein. I am hopeful to be joking.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:44 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I comfort myself with the thought that if this system is ever implemented successfully, it will be gamed to complete irrelevance.

That isn't much comfort to the people who don't have the time, resources, connections, and/or knowledge required to game the system, and consequently get stiffed by it.

It's also not much comfort to the people who are going to have the system actively gamed against them (such as political activists).
posted by Noms_Tiem at 3:45 PM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


"update social_score set credit=credit-1 where citizen='polymodus';"

I predict dark times for Wu DROP TABLE Citizens;--
posted by klangklangston at 3:46 PM on May 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


I've linked it before, but I think that boyd and Crawford's work about the provocations of big data is a piece of essential reading. There's another version floating around out there, but the one I linked has the big points.

One of their main points is that access to, and ability to manipulate and understand big data is inherently the capability of the powerful. That might mean social media companies, or ISPs, or technology conglomerates, but in this case it means a state power that acts as the gatekeeper of its country's Internet access. The NSA wields similar power (likely on a global scale, too, given what we know about their efforts to infiltrate the multinationals who effectively run our online experience).

When considering the use of big data as a means of making sense of the world, It's worth noting that it's not only a question of access to, but also a question of ability with. The ability to rope in skilled data scientists who can (to use boyd and Crawford's terminology) "Wrangl[e] APIs, scrap[e] and analyz[e] big swathes of data ... a skill set generally restricted to those with a computational background. When computational skills are positioned as the most valuable, questions emerge over who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged in such a context. This, in its own way, sets up new hierarchies around ‘who can read the numbers’, rather than recognizing that computer scientists and social scientists both have valuable perspectives to offer."

The "digital divide" of big data relates to another of their points, which is that (given the glimmer of novelty and technicity that surrounds 'big data' as a faddish term) insights derived from these methodologies is often given higher valences of truth than knowledge that is created through other, smaller means of understanding.

The use of big data then becomes then a question of transparency. Large-scale organizations (such as governments and corporations) have an unprecedented ability to obtain and understand civilians not only on a mass level, but also in intimate personal detail. Think of all of the data that your smart watch could send to an insurance company looking to set premiums. How often you move, your average heartrate, how long you are stationary for, which fast food restaurants you frequent on a regular basis (via GPS), the aggregate health rating of your social network and family. However, because this data is aggregated and collected in a totally opaque way (unless, maybe, you're a data scientist yourself) you have no idea how your actions are being conveyed to the big, invisible Other living in the database. To a certain extent it's always been true that computational power is political power, but at least in prior iterations you've known to a certain extent what sort of data you were transmitting (e.g. you know that late payments affect your credit score, even if the specifics of the mortgage company's decision making process aren't public knowledge).

Put another way, the individual becomes increasingly weak and transparent, while the large-scale organization becomes increasingly powerful and opaque.
posted by codacorolla at 3:47 PM on May 5, 2015 [44 favorites]


"The West is certainly providing China with many powerful surveillance technologies it would not otherwise have developed on its own, given the same time frame. "

… which does not mean that the West has 20 years on China. Seriously, comparing the surveillance state of China to the West is like comparing East Germany to West Germany — it's an order of magnitude different.

"An average American's credit score is used for all kinds of purposes it wasn't originally intended for, and it is intertwined with one's personal identity in very deep ways."

Yes, but it's not based on social performance outside of financial metrics. Which is innovative.

Do you not understand what I'm arguing or are you just stuck in a pantomime as some Sisyphean afterlife?
posted by klangklangston at 3:49 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


All the dystopias seem to have huge denim shortages.

They make up for it with leather, face paint, and shoulder pad overages.

And hair gel. Future is all about the hair gel.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:49 PM on May 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


And hair gel. Future is all about the hair gel

So the future is basically the 80s again? Oh well.
posted by happyroach at 4:05 PM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


From the first article:

In the Chinese press the system has been presented as rather limited focusing mostly on financial credibility. But Creemers' study shows the government wants to evaluate behavior of its citizens in various other areas as well, with the aim of 'strengthening and innovating social governance', according to the government.

This sounds deeply disturbing, but in addition it sounds sort of absurd. Evaluate for what purpose? How do they know that the data they're getting corresponds to something that they actually want to measure, even for patently, super-villainously nefarious purposes?

Innovative will be the active contribution of citizens rating other citizens. 'Imagine a Chinese person being able to rate his doctor or his professor, as is already happening in the US. And he or she might also give a bad score to polluting companies, as the system will be applied to companies and institutions as well', says Creemers.

So the government wants to operate a vast system of personal merit scores, but they're totally going to be hands-off when it comes to the mechanics of how those scores are produced. That sounds super plausible.

As a result of its transformation in recent decades Chinese society has changed 'from a society of acquaintances into a society of strangers'. As a result moral conduct has suffered: 'When people's behavior isn't bound by their morality, a system must be used to restrict their actions'. Therefore it is time for the 'Social Credit System', which covers 'four major fields: politics, business, society and justice.'

It's interesting that those four things are characterised as being distinct from one another, comparable but separate. And when I say "interesting," I mean "amorally intellectually bankrupt." Separating justice from business and politics is bad enough, but making "society" its own little domain from which everything else looks like just another "sector" is frankly quite bizarre, though viewed instrumentally, it's not exactly tough to see how it's wildly useful from an instrumental perspective.

According to professor Wang Shuqin, who is working on the new system, the mechanism for establishing financial creditworthiness, is practically ready to be put in practice. Without such a mechanism doing business in China is risky, she stresses, as about half of the signed contracts are not kept. 'Especially given the speed of the digital economy it is crucial that people can quickly verify each other's creditworthiness.' Adding non-financial factors to the system, like the 'socialist core values', she regards as a bonus: 'The behavior of the majority is determined by their world of thoughts. A person who believes in socialist core values, is behaving more decent.'

But I guess it's not all bad news; apparently the Chinese are just as confused as Americans about what "socialist" actually means.
posted by clockzero at 4:11 PM on May 5, 2015


So the future is basically the 80s again? Oh well.

It's that or Zardoz, man. You can imagine someone shouting "The gun is good! The penis is evil!" at a human face forever, if you like....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:11 PM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


So the future is basically the 80s again? Oh well.

That's the most exciting thing I've read all day. I'm ready for that future!

So the government wants to operate a vast system of personal merit scores, but they're totally going to be hands-off when it comes to the mechanics of how those scores are produced. That sounds super plausible.

Rogier Creemers (one of the experts interviewed by the newspaper) seems to be comparing the proposed Chinese system to the massive network of informers run by the Stasi in East Germany. But while that system was very top-down and bureaucratic, this new Social Credit would be more of a bottom-up thing, with people rating each other much as you'd rate someone on Tinder. Probably as part of ordinary transactions like buying and selling or commenting online.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:22 PM on May 5, 2015


Probably as part of ordinary transactions like buying and selling or commenting online.

Sort of a "ratemyfellowcitizen.com?" That could never go wrong.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:26 PM on May 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


" If friends have a poor lending reputation, this reflects badly on the person, just as prolonged playing of video games. "

Why does playing video games indicate either a credit risk or disloyalty to the regime? I would have thought that sitting alone in one's basement distracting oneself would be behaviour a totalitarian might want to encourage.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:27 PM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Your basic social credit score would be assigned by - I dunno, the government most likely- using the data collected by giant companies like Baidu. Then it's modified by the feedback of other citizens, who no doubt will give their decision lots of hard thought before pressing "thumbs up" or "thumbs down."
posted by Kevin Street at 4:30 PM on May 5, 2015


You can imagine someone shouting "The gun is good! The penis is evil!" at a human face forever, if you like....

That's Texas, isn't it?
posted by Artw at 4:43 PM on May 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


* So the future is basically the 80s again? Oh well.
* That's the most exciting thing I've read all day. I'm ready for that future!


My knees, among other bits, are definitely on board.
posted by maxwelton at 4:48 PM on May 5, 2015


A cultural revolution for the 21st century. Funneling the internet hive mind to the ends of statism. I suppose the implementation of this system will truly test one tenet of liberal belief: the idea that free societies are able to out-innovate and out-perform command societies, by having greater intellectual diversity.
That is to say that oppression, like guard wealth or corruption, is a net drag to the ambient innovation of a society. Furthermore, what is to stop this from being like the last cultural revolution- a rigged game of denunciations and re-educations and recriminations. But I suppose that's the point. A system like this can be re-coded as necessary to assist with the purging and reduction of the perceived social enemies of the moment.

The more I see of Xi Jinping, the more I miss Hu Jintao. But it is, in a sense, history repeating itself. From the Tang to the Ming, China's size and homogeneity historically causes it to backslide into insularism and intrigues of ideological/religious purification and polarization. The only thing keeping this century from being a Chinese century is China. But that can also be said for most centuries of human history.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 4:50 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


My knees, among other bits, are definitely on board.


Everybody wearing sunglasses at night and leather jackets inside, Cyberspace is redesigned as a neverending wireframe landscape... Cybernetic dolphins. Let's do this!
posted by Kevin Street at 4:50 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Sort of a "ratemyfellowcitizen.com?" That could never go wrong."

Based on Yelp, I'm going to assume that half the negative reviews are going to be from people who are narcing on the wrong person, or want to complain that their dry cleaner didn't serve tacos, and that three quarters of the positive reviews will come from immediate family.
posted by klangklangston at 4:59 PM on May 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


A government that uses this, might as well try to manage its citizens by computing and checking individual horoscopes.
posted by humanfont at 5:02 PM on May 5, 2015


Huh . . .
posted by rankfreudlite at 5:03 PM on May 5, 2015


My /. Karma is Excellent, and I've got over 40k comment karma on reddit, so I'm cool with this..
posted by mikelieman at 5:32 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


>You can imagine someone shouting "The gun is good! The penis is evil!" at a human face forever, if you like....

That's Texas, isn't it?


No, in Texas they shout "The penis is good! The gun is even better!"
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:34 PM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh man, between this and watching the Alberta election, I am just laughing. Dunno whether it's ruder to liken the Alberta government to the Chinese government or vice-versa.

social credit was a conservative-populist political party, most powerful in Alberta
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:42 PM on May 5, 2015


Mark Zuckerberg is paying for this, right?
posted by valkane at 6:09 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The West does not have 20 years on China's surveillance state, and the combination of big data and this explicit social modeling is innovative.

it'll be much more effective if it isn't explicit, but secret - and don't think for a minute that it's not happening here, although i very much doubt we're years ahead of china
posted by pyramid termite at 6:17 PM on May 5, 2015


Super Sad True Love Story had everyone's credit rating broadcast from the nearest lamp post whenever they walked by. It didn't turn out really well...
posted by ovvl at 6:19 PM on May 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Are we sure Philip K. Dick was a druggie and not someone unstuck in time?
posted by qcubed at 6:24 PM on May 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is no legitimate scientific institution.

update social_score set credit=credit-1 where citizen='polymodus';


As a 1.5 generation Asian American, I am under no illusions that the Chinese government doesn't have computer-analyzed, compiled information about my status in relation to their vested interests. It is with thanks to my liberal, privileged, Westernized education that I nevertheless do not hesitate to call out things for what they are.
posted by polymodus at 6:26 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


人民币? More like 民币!
posted by Apocryphon at 6:39 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


GenjiandProust: "So the future is basically the 80s again? Oh well.

It's that or Zardoz, man. You can imagine someone shouting "The gun is good! The penis is evil!" at a human face forever, if you like....
"

Mine is more a troublemaker who leads me to bad decisions. Wouldn't exactly call that evil per se.
posted by Samizdata at 6:55 PM on May 5, 2015


The hukou system and dangan are relevant here. This really seems like an incremental update to existing systems of social control, not some radical innovation that could only have come from the West.

Until 2003 "custody and repatriation" laws, somewhat like antebellum fugitive slave laws in the US, allowed people to be internally deported back to their proper place of residence if they strayed too far from home. So yeah, credit agencies providing access to a list of previous addresses in the course of background checks is minor in comparison.

Perhaps when climate change and pollution worsen to the point of farming collapse and mass starvation. Antisocial credit scores get turned into a nutritious source of protein. I am hopeful to be joking.

China has a great deal of experience with famines that kill people in numbers of the magnitude of the entire 21st-century populations of some Western countries. The Wikipedia article on the hukou system talks about its role during the Great Leap Forward famine. The Great Leap Forward article links to this NYT review of a book concerning incidents of cannibalism during the famine. (Though not cannibalism perpetrated by the government I'm assuming, I haven't read the book.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:57 PM on May 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


No, in Texas they shout "The penis is good! The gun is even better!"

But enough about Governor Abbott...
posted by happyroach at 7:23 PM on May 5, 2015


uh i guess if you like leather dusters

And I do!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:32 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


They're gonna "rank" billions of people in some kind of meaningful and/or useful way? They should crowdsource it. You know how people online love ranking things. ("Top 100 million most loyal citizens in Wang Chung province.")

As far as the adoption of a system of "Social Credit" goes, somewhere the spirit of Ezra Pound must be very happy.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:38 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mark Zuckerberg is paying for this, right?

He's the product, so he's doesn't pay. Or he's just a product of society. The rest of us pay for it, anyway.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:40 PM on May 5, 2015


Whuffie! Doctorow must be so proud...
posted by straw


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whuffie

All it seems to be missing is the popular voting.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 9:34 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder if foreign business interests will be able to access (or make use of in some way, but without actually accessing) the ranking information.
posted by clockzero at 10:39 PM on May 5, 2015


This really seems like an incremental update to existing systems of social control

Except incremental doesn't really apply given that the world is at least ankle-deep in the Computer Age. Even the field of Biology is aware of the tension between models of punctuated and incremental change.
posted by polymodus at 10:56 PM on May 5, 2015


The Solution

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers' Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

- Bertolt Brecht
posted by Zarkonnen at 11:26 PM on May 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Are we sure Philip K. Dick was a druggie and not someone unstuck in time?

Because these are mutually exclusive?
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 12:49 AM on May 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Except incremental doesn't really apply given that the world is at least ankle-deep in the Computer Age. Even the field of Biology is aware of the tension between models of punctuated and incremental change.

Oh well if we're ankle-deep...

What I mean is, in 2020 when this is fully implemented is it going to give the Chinese government an order of magnitude greater control over its population, like a hundred or a thousand times more control, or just two or three times more control, or less? Even if you go back to, say, Tienanmen Square and pick an equidistant point 26 years in the future to compare with, is it going to be a hundred or a thousand or even ten times worse? Because there'll be a credit-score-like number available for each person summarizing their degree of compliance with social control measures, in addition to the existing dossier of more qualitative information?

This development just doesn't seem to me, from the outside, like the singularity or some other evolutionary cusp in terms of totalitarian control over society. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd need more than "it involves computers now" to convince me.

The article linked in the OP says things like
In his view this surveillance will have a wider scope than was the case under the former East German system: 'The German aim was limited to avoiding a revolt against the regime. The Chinese aim is far more ambitious: it is clearly an attempt to create a new citizen.'
but trying to create a new citizen through comprehensive social control is far from novel.
posted by XMLicious at 1:14 AM on May 6, 2015


Man, I can't wait for social gold farmers. I can just pay someone to praise the government and condemn Falun Gong for me!

This conceptually super reminded me of the guy who worked for money.
posted by emptythought at 3:11 AM on May 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wow that was a really great story.
posted by griphus at 3:46 AM on May 6, 2015


Before Brunner, probably before Dick, this was taken to its extreme in a book by Jack Vance in 1956.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:32 AM on May 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Are we sure Philip K. Dick was a druggie and not someone unstuck in time?

That is absolutely not true according to the laser being beamed into my brain.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:54 AM on May 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Gamified totalitarianism. That's something new.

That's a perfect description. Yikes.
posted by homunculus at 10:53 AM on May 7, 2015


Are we sure Philip K. Dick was a druggie and not someone unstuck in time?

I always assumed he was both.
posted by homunculus at 10:53 AM on May 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


This development just doesn't seem to me, from the outside, like the singularity or some other evolutionary cusp in terms of totalitarian control over society. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd need more than "it involves computers now" to convince me.

Then as an Asian American academically trained to do research on computers, I speak from informed intuition that this kind of news both scares and saddens me.

Not to criticize you personally, but that the argument you gave literally first presumes to quantify human existence in terms of magnitude of control—without warranting the appropriateness or sensibility of such a measure—I find problematic.

I mean, things don't have to be > x% totalitarian for the status quo to be unacceptable, right? It is sloppy to claim I was equating this news item to the start of a singularity. That doesn't make any sense.
posted by polymodus at 2:30 PM on May 7, 2015


The article linked in the OP says things like

In his view this surveillance will have a wider scope than was the case under the former East German system: 'The German aim was limited to avoiding a revolt against the regime. The Chinese aim is far more ambitious: it is clearly an attempt to create a new citizen.'

but trying to create a new citizen through comprehensive social control is far from novel.


This is not even a correct reading of the paragraph. The paragraph does not claim novelty. This is a basic reading comprehension issue, i.e. correctly responding to what the text actually says.
posted by polymodus at 2:35 PM on May 7, 2015


Wow that was a really great story.

Read the other stuff by them too, it's all refreshingly good.
posted by emptythought at 4:01 PM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, things don't have to be > x% totalitarian for the status quo to be unacceptable, right?

If you're equating this development with the status quo then yes, I probably misunderstood you; I was interpreting "incremental doesn't really apply" and mention of biology and "punctuated" change to refer to something like punctuated equilibrium and hence a sudden and rapid drastic change to a state extremely different from the status quo.
posted by XMLicious at 9:05 PM on May 7, 2015


Yeah, great story. I'ma pass it around to my friends like I found it, OK?
posted by klangklangston at 10:07 PM on May 7, 2015


Why does playing video games indicate either a credit risk or disloyalty to the regime? I would have thought that sitting alone in one's basement distracting oneself would be behaviour a totalitarian might want to encourage.

Depends. If China considers the rest of the population, or a large enough subset of it, to be suitably socialized or, for lack of a better place word, indoctrinated, then isolation may not be desired. Especially if that isolation involves long period of interaction with Western cultural artifacts.

I'm not saying I agree with their policy. I deplore China's video game crackdown and policies, but for their political mindset, it might make sense.
posted by formless at 4:20 PM on May 9, 2015


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