AI Case Study
The Chinese Government is building a social credit system for citizens to measure, monitor and incentivise approved behaviour patterns
Multiple Chinese suppliers are building a "social credit system" for individual citizens based on their behaviour patterns and relationships to measure their conformity to the state's expected standards. This will be used to allocate resources (e.g. hotel rooms, school places for relatives) or permissions (e.g. to travel abroad) for citizens.
Public And Social Sector
Data will be pulled from social media systems, payment platforms, CCTV footage, state data sources and others to measure the nature of a citizen's alignment with state expectations. This has been likened to credit scores in Europe or the US - in China only 350m people have them (whilst financial data exists for 800m). Whilst clearly it will have some similar applications the potential for it to have more far-reaching impact is very clear. At present several groups - a total of 8 companies according to Wired - are positioning themselves to provide the technology - often with different consortia of data providers - but the aim is to have this rolled out early in the next decade. It is currently voluntary - but will officially be mandatory from 2020.
Of two competing versions: individuals on Sesame Credit are measured by a score ranging between 350 and 950 points. Alibaba does not divulge the "complex algorithm" it uses to calculate the number but they do reveal the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as "a user's ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations". The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone's mobile phone number and address. The fourth category is behaviour and preference: under this system a person's shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. 'Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,' says Li Yingyun, Sesame's Technology Director. 'Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.' So the system not only investigates behaviour - it shapes it. It 'nudges' citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.
The fifth category is interpersonal relationships. What does their choice of online friends and their interactions say about the person being assessed? Sharing what Sesame Credit refers to as 'positive energy' online, nice messages about the government or how well the country's economy is doing, will make your score go up.
China plans to use AI to ensure that citizens are encouraged to behave in a manner supportive of the state - and to discourage dissent.
Full roll out not expected until the 2020's
According to Wired: "In February 2017, the country's Supreme People's Court announced that 6.15 million of its citizens had been banned from taking flights over the past four years for social misdeeds. The ban is being pointed to as a step toward blacklisting in the SCS. 'We have signed a memorandum… [with over] 44 government departments in order to limit 'discredited' people on multiple levels,' says Meng Xiang, head of the executive department of the Supreme Court. Another 1.65 million blacklisted people cannot take trains.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce argues that the annual economic loss caused by lack of credit information is more than 600 billion yuan (£68bn). Growing trust across society is seen as a huge potential economic opportunity. According to the state-run Global Times at the end of April 2018, China's social credit system has blocked people from taking 11.14 million flights and 4.25 million high-speed train trips."