Can data be used to harm other people? The reality is that in some parts of the world, it is already being used to trial increased surveillance and fuel oppressive social systems. This is a clear indication that technology will only ever be a reflection of the human hands responsible for its creation and maintenance.
In this episode, Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby discuss the social implications of China’s authoritarian hold on its citizens—particularly its military-industrial complex’s creation of a three-billion US dollar supercomputer satellite center in the country’s Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.
Despite the official statement claiming that this enormous tech site will be used as part of a “massive constellation of commercial satellites” that can “offer services from high-speed internet for aircraft to tracking coal shipments,” we think it pays to be a little critical of the difference between what’s being reported—and what’s being done.
China has been the subject of widespread criticism after it announced the development of a social credit system in 2011. This system builds on a mass surveillance structure of more than 770 million cameras installed across the country as of 2019, with expectations that it will eventually hit the one billion mark by the end of 2021.
The social credit system is used to score individuals and companies based on a collection of data from different sources. Individuals are rewarded for appropriate social behavior, such as proper conduct on mass transportation systems and adherence to waste sorting rules in their city.
Conversely, they will be punished for “negative behavior” which can include elderly residents suing family members for not visiting regularly (Shanghai); cheating in online video games (Suzhou), failing to show for reservations at hotels or restaurants (Suzhou); and failing to pick up any take-out food that was ordered (Suzhou).
Individuals with poor credit score will face restrictions on loans, transportation, and even education. As part of the system’s effort to encourage good behavior, some local governments offer incentives to those with a higher credit score. These people will be prioritized in health care provision, and can even waive deposits to rent public housing.
Businesses are required to submit data on their operations and on their partners and suppliers. Their credit score can be influenced by their behavior and ratings from their suppliers.
Finally, individuals and businesses that are deemed “untrustworthy” will be publicly named and shamed.
A society where human behavior is closely controlled and dictated by the state, through the latest technological capabilities, sounds like the plot of a dystopian sci-fi novel like George Orwell’s 1984—but this is already the reality for more than a billion individuals and 28 million companies in China.
What are the implications of the social credit system? Critics are quick to point out that the government is using incomplete or inaccurate data to determine the provision of social privileges, and sometimes rights, for their own citizens.
The implementation of a stable credit system is also dependent on the strength of basic services, such as regulation in the credit industry and data protection. Those with lose credit scores may find it difficult to continue to progress in society, particularly if there is no concrete policy that can support their rehabilitation or reintegration.
Lastly, in a world where we have yet to fully account for all the factors that contribute to how and why we make decisions, this could easily turn into a system that disproportionately punishes people and businesses who are already struggling.
Beyond 1984, the hit television series Black Mirror also showed a glimpse into a society where people are controlled by their data. One of their episodes, entitled Nosedive, draw viewers into a world where everyone’s social status is controlled by the quality of their ratings on social media. A series of unfortunate events that are outside of the protagonist’s control have a massive impact on her credit score, which in turn cripples her socioeconomic status.
These important pieces of media and literature highlight how the agnosticism of data, alongside the impact of human intervention, can drastically change the impact of technology. It is our responsibility to ensure that AI is developed with a conscientious hand, and that it is capable of empowering minorities instead of widening the inequality gap.
Humanity’s thirst for innovating new and exciting ways of harnessing technology compels us to participate in a shared initiative: one that will help preserve our free will, personal autonomy, and human rights.
The TARTLE platform is our life’s work toward ensuring that your personal data remains personal. Everything you share is given with your full consent, and we help you connect to other like-minded individuals and organizations who can represent your interests.
Alexander McCaig (00:09):
China, give it a break.
Jason Rigby (00:12):
Fun, fun. Mr. Superpower, China. Remember the old James Bond movie with the guy with the claw? Was it Dr. Claw?
Alexander McCaig (00:23):
No, not Dr. Claw.
Jason Rigby (00:24):
You know what I'm talking about.
Alexander McCaig (00:26):
You had Dr. No. It wasn't Jaws.
Jason Rigby (00:27):
Right. Remember the guy with the big claw?
Alexander McCaig (00:33):
Oh, crap. Who was that?
Jason Rigby (00:33):
Am I right? Was it a Bond movie?
Alexander McCaig (00:35):
I don't think it was a Bond film.
Jason Rigby (00:35):
And he crushed things with it. Or was it like a funny takeoff from the Myers?
Alexander McCaig (00:43):
Oh, was it like an Austin Powers film thing?
Jason Rigby (00:45):
Yeah, Austin Powers, I think. I don't remember. You have to look that up.
Alexander McCaig (00:48):
It might have been. Now, I can almost see the scene in my head.
Jason Rigby (00:50):
Yeah. But it's just like this. And there's a lot of propaganda.
Alexander McCaig (00:56):
Where are you going with this metaphor?
Jason Rigby (00:57):
Well, there's a lot of propaganda with fists crushing things. This control.
Alexander McCaig (01:03):
Jason Rigby (01:03):
Yes. It's might.
Alexander McCaig (01:05):
Yeah. It's great force and might. And speaking of that, China does a great job.
Jason Rigby (01:14):
Here we go. We're going to praise you, China.
Alexander McCaig (01:16):
Yeah, China, you do such a good job controlling your citizens through digital technology and spying on them. Listen, if you're doing it well on the streets with your cameras and stuff like that, analyzing all their faces, you'd probably do a good job putting satellites up above Earth, right?
Jason Rigby (01:33):
Alexander McCaig (01:33):
Okay. So what's China doing here in the space port of Wenchang?
Jason Rigby (01:37):
Yeah. Economic Times said, "China plans 3 billion..." Billiard.
Alexander McCaig (01:43):
Jason Rigby (01:44):
3 billion billiard balls. No. "China plans 3 billion supercomputing center to analyze data from space."
Alexander McCaig (01:51):
Yeah, not of space.
Jason Rigby (01:52):
Alexander McCaig (01:52):
No, no, no, no, no. Easily misread here.
Jason Rigby (01:56):
Alexander McCaig (01:56):
It's not of space, from space.
Jason Rigby (01:59):
Yeah, we need to get a higher perspective so we can-
Alexander McCaig (02:02):
Watch our ants.
Jason Rigby (02:03):
Alexander McCaig (02:04):
That's all they care about.
Jason Rigby (02:05):
It's a planned investment of 20 billion-
Alexander McCaig (02:08):
Jason Rigby (02:08):
Yeah, which is 3.1 billion. The supercomputing center will provide big data services for industries.
Alexander McCaig (02:15):
Jason Rigby (02:16):
Aerospace and the marine sector starting in 20... So aerospace is military, or...
Alexander McCaig (02:21):
Oh, so the military-industrial complex of China is doing state-backed observation and spying from satellites. We need to leave the ground and put up more satellites in space.
Jason Rigby (02:34):
It says, "In the next decade, China envisions..." Here's their vision.
Alexander McCaig (02:37):
I don't care about China's vision.
Jason Rigby (02:38):
"Massive constellations." That's a big word. "Massive constellations of commercial satellites that can offer services ranging from high-speed internet for aircraft to tracking coal shipments." Are we done with coal?
Alexander McCaig (02:52):
Why are you talking about coal being used for the next 10 years? What a ridiculous, archaic statement. High-speed internet? China, you're out of the game. Elon Musk is on it. No one wants to use Chinese internet. The state's watching all of it. Nobody wants it. You do not respect human rights hands down. You don't. So you want high-speed internet for aircraft? We're really worried about having that much Wi-Fi on a plane we can't freaking chill out for five seconds?
Jason Rigby (03:21):
These are all the niceties. This is a point. Here we go. This is 0.001% of what they're actually going to use it for. Because if we're doing facial recognition on the streets, like you said, taking it to the streets, then it's just a matter of GPS tracking on phone's location-
Alexander McCaig (03:41):
Satellites with Lidar that can see through the furniture of your house, see if you're hiding things, people, or anything like that.
Jason Rigby (03:47):
Alexander McCaig (03:49):
All that ground-penetrating radar and they put it in space, along with great imagery? You're screwed.
Jason Rigby (03:55):
Yeah. I mean, they can see if people congregate, if they're having meetings. They lock pastors, religious people up in China if they go against. So they can see all that. This is what a society that is based off of totalitarianism, this is what it does.
Alexander McCaig (04:16):
They're totalitarian with data. They're using it against you. They don't give a shit about human rights one bit. I don't even think they probably asked the entire public community of China and their citizens if they were cool with them sending up more satellites to get spied on.
Jason Rigby (04:36):
Well, I mean, if you have concentration camps, which has been shown that they do, if you have places where you have nets hanging over, suicide nets, so people don't kill themselves because they're working so much-
Alexander McCaig (04:47):
It's just ridiculous amounts of labor, yeah.
Jason Rigby (04:48):
... if you have, where you're boarding people up for...
Alexander McCaig (04:54):
Releasing false reports?
Jason Rigby (04:56):
Yeah. And people are like, "Why are you guys so hard on China?" Well, our Big 7, number three is what?
Alexander McCaig (05:02):
Oh, look at that. Number three, human rights. That's weird. Oh, and government and corporate transparency, number six? China's just ticking all the boxes right now. It's a total-
Jason Rigby (05:15):
Yeah, in a negative-oriented way. It's not that we're bashing China. I don't care what country you are. We talked about, I think it was Turkey or something like that, where they were going against journalists and stuff. Then Russia has that, too, where journalists just disappear.
Alexander McCaig (05:29):
China is just a nice leading example of what not to do when it comes to respecting people, their data, or their privacy.
Jason Rigby (05:39):
Even though I have to shout out... I do love Putin's speeches.
Alexander McCaig (05:42):
His speeches, well, he's very straightforward.
Jason Rigby (05:45):
He calls... What was that when you showed me... And I love that. Who was it? It was-
Alexander McCaig (05:49):
Jason Rigby (05:50):
Yeah, Megyn Kelly. That was great.
Alexander McCaig (05:52):
He was like, "Don't say things to me that you don't have any truth or understanding of." And honestly, he's not wrong. I get it. But there's such a lack of clarity. It's like why do you even need to put out an article? Why do you need to even tell us that it will be used for tracking coal and airplanes? We know that's not what you're going to use it for, but you're going to do it anyway.
Jason Rigby (06:15):
You know as well as I do, these nations love to sugarcoat things so that... Did you ever have the Magic Shell stuff that you put on the ice cream and then it turns hard, when you were a kid?
Alexander McCaig (06:26):
Jason Rigby (06:26):
You never had that?
Alexander McCaig (06:27):
What the heck is that?
Jason Rigby (06:27):
People know what I'm talking about. You could still buy it. So you can take some scoops of ice cream and you put it in there. And this has got to be so bad for you. It's got to be pure chemical. It's called Magic Shell. It's chocolate syrup. What it does is you pour it on the ice cream, and it reacts with the coldness of the ice cream, so it turns the liquid to a solid.
Alexander McCaig (06:43):
Oh, it's the same thing they use at Dairy Queen.
Jason Rigby (06:45):
Yeah, yeah. So it's like taking the cone, dipping it in there, and then it makes a hard shell. It's nice and pretty, but when you crack open that shell, that ice cream is just melting everywhere.
Alexander McCaig (06:58):
Jason Rigby (06:59):
This is the whole concept of... I don't think they necessarily are concerned about looking good, globally.
Alexander McCaig (07:09):
Why would they care? They're huge. They have so much money, so many resources. Do they care about looking good?
Jason Rigby (07:14):
But I think they like the whole idea of sugarcoating totalitarianism. So it's like, "Well, everybody has a phone. Everybody's working. We're being all productive. It's growing, the economy is growing. The GDP is huge."
Alexander McCaig (07:29):
You know, China has all this data that they're collecting. Why don't they look at the data of history to show them that totalitarian regimes never work out in the end?
Jason Rigby (07:37):
Alexander McCaig (07:37):
Ever. None of the data shows it works out in the end.
Jason Rigby (07:40):
If you really want to see what works, come to America and see a fake capitalism.
Alexander McCaig (07:45):
Yeah. You'll see how fake capitalism works over here. I'm not saying we're any better over in the U.S. I'm just saying like, "Man, guys. Look at the data."
Jason Rigby (07:53):
You can have corporations that are state-backed. Control things like we do.
Alexander McCaig (07:57):
Follow us, guys. We're great at that over here.
Jason Rigby (08:00):
So we're not just bashing China. I want people to understand this.
Alexander McCaig (08:05):
No. China, there's an article. I mean, what do you expect? But cut it out.
Jason Rigby (08:09):
Yeah. Stop spying on your people. Stop imposing on people's free will.
Alexander McCaig (08:15):
Thank you very much.
Jason Rigby (08:17):
So how does TARTLE, when it collects data, big data-
Alexander McCaig (08:20):
TARTLE collects... Yeah.
Jason Rigby (08:21):
... how can we ensure that tartle.co does not impose on people's free will?
Alexander McCaig (08:28):
Okay. Here's the first thing. Do we create an account for you? No. You did it yourself. You went to our website. Do we coerce you? No, we didn't. We educated you. When you signed up, did we prepopulate information? No. You chose to put it in there. Four. Are you ready for this? This one's great. Can we see your information? No. Are we allowed to move it without your consent? No. Is it a completely trustless marketplace? Yes. Do we respect your free will? Yes. Do we understand that there's value in your information and who you are? Yes. Do we respect the fact that you want to share it on your own? Yes. Do we respect your right to privacy? Yes. Do we respect the fact that you're a human being? Yes, we do.
Alexander McCaig (09:06):
So we are on the polar opposite side of what China is doing, and you can rest assured that you have all the choice, free will, and respect for being a human being when you sign up on TARTLE. And I would ask every person in China who is not a part of the state to sign up on TARTLE.
Jason Rigby (09:21):
And how would they sign up?
Alexander McCaig (09:22):
Oh, they go to tartle.co. And if you need to, use a VPN, because I know your government's probably blocking it. Go there and sign up by clicking get started.
Speaker 3 (09:37):
Thank you for listening to TARTLEcast with your hosts, Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby, where humanity steps into the future and the source data defines the path.