CHINA - The Tyranny of Algorithms

Arno Froese

For the past couple of years a big story about the future of China has been the focus of both fascination and horror. It is all about what the authorities in Beijing call “social credit,” and the kind of surveillance that is now within governments’ grasp. The official rhetoric is poetic. According to the documents, what is being developed will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

As China moves into the newly solidified President Xi Jinping era, the basic plan is intended to be in place by 2020. Some of it will apply to businesses and officials, so as to address corruption and tackle such high-profile issues as poor food hygiene. But other elements will be focused on ordinary individuals, so that transgressions such as dodging transport fares and not caring sufficiently for your parents will mean penalties, while living the life of a good citizen will bring benefits and opportunities.

Online behavior will inevitably be a big part of what is monitored, and algorithms will be key to everything, though there remain doubts about whether something so ambitious will ever come to full fruition. One of the scheme’s basic aims is to use a vast amount of data to create individual ratings, which will decide people’s access—or lack of it—to everything from travel to jobs.

The most high-profile system is Sesame Credit—created by Ant Financial, an offshoot of the Chinese online retail giant Alibaba. Superficially, it reflects the western definition of credit, and looks like a version of the credit scores used all over the world, invented to belatedly allow Chinese consumers the pleasures of buying things on tick, and manage the transition to an economy in which huge numbers of people pay via smartphones. But its reach runs wider.

Using a secret algorithm, Sesame credit constantly scores people from 350 to 950, and its ratings are based on factors including considerations of “interpersonal relationships” and consumer habits. Bluntly put, being friends with low-rated people is bad news. Buying video games, for example, gets you marked down. Participation is voluntary but easily secured, thanks to an array of enticements. High scores unlock privileges such as being able to rent a car without a deposit, and fast-tracked European visa applications. There are also more romantic benefits: the online dating service Baihe gives people with good scores prominence on its platforms.

Exactly how all this will relate to the version of social credit eventually implemented is unclear: licenses that might have enabled the systems to be rolled out further ran out last year. There again, Ant Financial has stated that it wants to “help build a social integrity system”—and the existing public and private pilots have a similar sense of social control, and look set to feed the same social divisions. If you are moldering away towards the bottom of the hierarchies, life will clearly be unpleasant. But if you manage to be a high-flyer, the pleasures of fast-tracking and open doors will be all yours, though even the most fleeting human interaction will give off the crackle of status anxiety., 5 March 2019

Arno's commentary

Again, communist China seems to be leading the way: “algorithms will be [the] key to everything.”

What does it mean? In simple terms, new ways of classifying persons. People’s social and economic behavior will earn scores, as the article indicates, from 350 to 950. With information on such a large group of consumers, China’s economy can be made transparent to those who are in charge and be guided accordingly.

For the rest of the world, it will have to go in the same direction: total control. That, incidentally, is the key to the final collapse called Armageddon.

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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