The rapid technological development that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is currently experiencing is bringing plans closer and closer for total social control that until recently were unthinkable. It is already being done by the Chinese regime, which intends to apply it to the 1.4 billion inhabitants of the great Eastern nation. 

At this point, it is essential to take a look at the crucial technological element that enables human beings to transcend unknown and, therefore, risky, digital frontiers: the microchip. 

The microchip is an electronic device made of semiconductor material, generally based on silicon, the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust after oxygen. 

It contains an integrated circuit that connects the transistors that allow the harmonious interaction of components of a given electronic device to meet the objectives for which it was designed.  

Since the invention of the transistor in 1947 by the American scientists’ John Bardeen, Walter Houser Brattain, and William Bradford Shockley, its size has been reduced to the point of fitting up to 9 million of them in each square mm of the microchip that contains them. 

The measurement unit is no longer the millimeter but the nanometer, equivalent to one billionth of a meter. The current state of the art is 5 nanometers, making them smaller than a virus. However, the size limit established so far is that of an atom, and it is believed that it will not be possible to transcend that frontier. 

The reduction in the size of transistors makes it possible to integrate millions of them for specific purposes. Their manufacture has advanced to such an extent that they are printed, obviously using highly specialized processes. 

As a result, the production costs of these elements have risen at an unprecedented rate. Over the last 20 years, only three companies have withstood the economic pressure, the rest having disappeared. 

These results, logically, involve serious geopolitical implications, given that the production of microchips has become the major global economic chokepoint. Moreover, the international interactions generated around the dominance of chip production are of such magnitude that the outcome could surprise the world. 

The CCP’s social control system

While dazzling AI-based technological advances support the various branches of global industrial production, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has also made them the basis for a comprehensive system of social control that undermines the fundamental rights of its citizens.

In 2014, based on recommendations from the State Council, the CCP began implementing a sophisticated classification system to monitor the behavior of its vast population. It seeks to place the social status of each of its members based on the score obtained, according to regulations that it designates as a social credit system. 

This control was formally raised in 2011 and was announced by the then-Premier Wen Jiabao. However, in its beginnings, it was introduced only to monitor creditworthiness, which continues to have substantial deficiencies in the Chinese financial sector. 

“The lack of creditworthiness in society is still quite prominent. Despite being prohibited, commercial fraud, counterfeiting and selling [fake goods], making false reports and false claims, and academic misconduct continue to take place, and the people are very dissatisfied,” Wen said after a State Council meeting in October 2011.

The social credit system is “an important component of the Socialist market economy system and the social governance system.” It is intended to reinforce the idea that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful,” according to a 2015 Chinese regime document cited by Business Insider. 

There is no mention of the welfare or ennoblement of citizens or the cultivation of human values. Instead, the motivation for the massive investment involved in the mammoth undertaking is the economy, socialism, and governance. Additionally, it implies the quality under the CCP’s magnifying glass is “trust.”

The word “trust” involves the quality of those who have total confidence in something or someone. It is contradictory that it arises spontaneously and sincerely from people’s hearts pressured by a surveillance system tracking them 24 hours a day under the pressure of their every movement being monitored by the anonymous brains of those who manipulate the complex control system.

From the brief words taken as a reference of the controversial social credit system, the two extremes between which the CCP intends to place Chinese villagers, depending on the percentage of “glory” or “shame” with which they are assessed according to the scores assigned by the regime’s censors, emerge. 

In principle, members of China’s economic planning team, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the People’s Bank of China, and the Chinese judicial system set the parameters that determine who will be considered as good or bad citizens, as quoted by the South China Morning Post.

Generally, the data comes from traditional sources, such as financial records, and those provided by criminal courts and various government entities. Data provided by third-party databases, such as online credit platforms, are also accepted.

To further tighten the circle that monitors citizens, the social credit system involves companies, which, in addition to submitting records of their operations, must provide information on their partners and suppliers to local and national authorities. In addition, they institutionalize a scoring system to rank their employees. 

The set of evaluations directly influences the companies’ credit score, so they also have to watch out for bad behavior, low reliability, and the ratings of their suppliers and customers.

The impact on the daily lives of citizens  

It is worth remembering here that the great classical Chinese civilization developed during its more than 5,000 years of history following the guidelines of the gods, according to historically documented references. 

During the last hundred years, the guiding principles underlying China’s cultural growth in the world were shaken and overthrown from their foundations by the emergence of the communist regime, which has since demolished each of its manifestations. 

Thus, in the daily life of a Chinese citizen, the CCP’s social credit system came to constitute a set of databases that arbitrarily monitor and evaluate the “reliability” of every inhabitant. 

Each data entry made in your name is assigned a social credit score, and depending on the history, this translates into rewards for those with a high rating and punishments for those with a low score.

“A good rating could offer priority health care or deposit-free renting of public housing, while a negative rating could see individuals banned from flights and trains,” explains author Amanda Lee. In the long term, those with a low “credibility” threshold will be virtually immobilized in their social environment. 

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in 2018, “Those who lose credibility will find it hard to make a tiny step in society.” 

Indeed, those deemed untrustworthy would face restrictions affecting loans, air and train travel, and education.

An assessment of how the implementation of the social credit system is progressing in China points out that the significant tendency of the Chinese regime is to demand from people rather than to give back or share. For example, a European Chamber of Commerce report states that the reward mechanism is not as developed as the sanction element in China.

To some extent, this trend could distort the balance that might have been expected from the Chinese regime with the words, “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”

The same report argues that individuals and companies rated as untrustworthy will suffer social scorn by being named and publicly shamed. 

Another striking aspect is that the rewards or punishments are not the same for all citizens. For example, for CCP officials, restrictions can arise, preventing them from buying tickets above economy class on flights, trains, and ferries.

Low-rated officials may also be banned from racking up large bills at luxury hotels, nightclubs, and golf courses and from buying or renovating properties.

Moreover, NDRC Deputy Director Lian Weiliang noted, “Those who have committed serious offenses or violations will not be taken off the blacklist … their untrustworthy record will be kept for a long time according to laws.”

As for the infrastructure put in place by the Chinese regime, it is known to be making rapid progress in implementing these controls. In recent years, the CCP has spent billions of dollars developing, purchasing, and implementing cutting-edge advances such as AI-facilitated facial recognition and other digital developments to add to the surveillance network of its citizens, according to Fox News.

Currently, there is one public surveillance camera installed for every four citizens in China. And installations are expected to increase during 2022 to 567 million cameras. 

Precisely, a high percentage of these cameras are used by the Chinese communist regime to obtain data to feed the large databases dedicated to accumulating the scores assigned to citizens for the actions they perform every day.  

The impact of the surveillance system on the human rights of the population is such that the CCP has been repeatedly accused of relentlessly tracking millions of members of ethnic minorities and members of religious groups. For example, several countries have officially described the persecution of millions of citizens of Uighur origin as genocide.

On the other hand, the production capacity of surveillance equipment by large corporations linked to the CCP is so large that Hikvision alone has become the heavyweight in this industry globally, and more companies are involved in this lucrative export activity. 

“With generous state support at home and low-cost sales abroad, Hikvision has become the world’s surveillance heavyweight. Its facilities can churn out 260,000 cameras daily—two for every three people born each day. In 2019, it produced nearly a quarter of the world’s surveillance cameras, with sales in more than 150 countries,” reported author Jonathan Hillman.

Does the Chinese regime export its social control system?

While it is difficult to establish whether the CCP has established connections with governments in other countries to transfer technology and procedures related to its social control system, specific indicators point to a relationship between this form of surveillance and those being replicated in other countries.  

Concerning the adaptation of this citizen surveillance process in other countries, it has become evident that other governments are avidly observing the CCP’s progress in its controversial social control systems, and some are even beginning to implement them in their territories. 

“At least seventy-five out of 176 countries globally are actively using AI technologies for surveillance purposes. This includes: smart city/safe city platforms (fifty-six countries), facial recognition systems (sixty-four countries), and smart policing (fifty-two countries),” noted Carnegie in 2019. 

Notably, in the United States, “At least seven states adopted face recognition to verify the identity of people applying for assistance such as unemployment benefits,” Wired reported four months ago. 

Other examples are presented by The Hill columnist Kristin Tate, who commented last year on the use of the social credit system in her country, albeit in this case by the large multinational companies operating there.

She implicated companies such as Facebook, which “…is taking similar measures, recently introducing messages that ask users to snitch on their potentially “extremist” friends,” for apparent political purposes. 

She also assumes these developments are risky for citizens, “Working in conjunction with major tech companies, citizens not convicted of a crime could lose their ability to transact any business.”

She adds, “Just last week, the British government announced its version of a health social credit system,” in a sequence of events that already seems inevitable.

Moreover, she extrapolates what could come to pass in the year 2030 should the already widespread “social credit system” continue to advance, saying, “Considering the growth of algorithms and dependence on tech giants, the ability to track, censor and eventually punish ordinary citizens will be mind-boggling by 2030.”

Concerning Canada, author and Internet technology entrepreneur, David Sacks, referred to the protests that occurred in that country in early 2022, in which he noted, “… the Canadian government itself directing the reprisals,” by invoking the Emergencies Act in his article entitled: A Social Credit System Comes to Canada. 

“His public safety minister Marco Mendocino stated that such extraordinary measures were necessary due to “intimidation, harassment, and expressions of hate.” Perhaps he doesn’t realize that none of these are listed in the law as valid reasons to invoke it,” Sacks writes

Perspectives on the social credit system in China

Turning to two of the ideas the CCP put forward as the basis for pushing its mammoth social credit system in China, according to the 2015 paper cited by Business Insider, a brief review of its progress might allow one to extrapolate its prospects.

It was initially proposed as an important component of the economy, plagued by commercial fraud and counterfeiting. However, more than a decade after its implementation, one of the biggest economic disasters of CCP-ruled financial activity became evident last year.  

The giant real estate conglomerate Evergrande defaulted on several of its agreed international payments, accumulating substantial economic losses, and is still on the verge of bankruptcy, with a debt of $300 billion, and has not yet resolved the crisis. 

This case is only the tip of the iceberg representing an immense crisis in the financial sector of the Chinese regime. However, it seriously threatens it, undermining any effectiveness of the social control system to promote confidence in its commercial entities, and by extension, in the people. 

The apparent undisciplined actions of borrowers and investors in the excessive acquisition of loans have gradually increased. Thus, the total debt of enterprises, government, and households went from 270% of annual economic output in 2018 to almost 300% in 2021.

And this is only one of the multiple flaws in the CCP’s performance, which encompass a complex national and international panorama that threatens to collapse it.

On the other hand, the CCP’s social control system is a refined instrument for instilling fear and repression. In October, author Emma Watson said it’s contradictory to the generation of trust required for healthy nation-building.

Therefore, the announcement of “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful” that accompanied the official dissemination of the social control system in 2015 is far removed from the harsh reality the country is going through.

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