Everything Is Not Terminator: Is China’s Social Credit System the Future?

Headshot - John Weaver
John F. Weaver
Director, Corporate Department and Chair, Real Estate Practice Group and Chair, Artificial Intelligence Practice
Published: Journal of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Law
September 20, 2019

In 2014, the central government of the People’s Republic of China announced a “social credit” system, which will monitor the behavior of the nation’s population and rank each person based on his or her social credit, i.e., how well each person behaves as a citizen. The term social credit dates to 2002, when the central government was looking at establishing a system to measure the creditworthiness of its citizens, but ultimately wanted the system to be compatible with the social services system. Forty-three municipalities are currently testing versions of the system, and the program is scheduled to be operational nationwide by 2020. To track citizens, the municipalities’ systems rely on huge amounts of personal data from a wide variety of sources, including social networks, smart phone apps, and video cameras already installed by the central government. Those cameras are part of “Skynet,” the Chinese government’s video surveillance system, the public purpose of which is to track criminal behavior, but which has more than 20 million cameras in public spaces across the country. The end goal is to rely on sophisticated artificial intelligence (“AI”) to review all of this data and add and deduct points from citizens based on how well they engage in lawful behavior.

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