December 2019
December 2019, Volume 1912,

A Monthly News Letter From CIOs Of India

Dear Digital Leader,
A warm welcome from CIOs Of India (Powered by ISMF). Thanks for sending a lot
of suggestions, kudos, and feedback on last newsletter, keep sending.
In my last newsletter to you, I mentioned about Digital dictatorship, which is
the concept where information and decision making is concentrated on just
one entity, the machine, for the benefits of few. These are the implications that
are getting possible due to the possible convergence of information technology
and biotechnology about which most of us are either passive or ignorant
or both. Most of us as tech leaders see only one positive side of technology
but reality may be quite opposite.

This may sound like a dystopian vision of the future but it is already happening
in China. Some other countries are also conducting experiments with such
systems. The massive social engineering project being run in China is making
and breaking lives. This gigantic social engineering experiment that some have
called the “gamification of trust” is changing the way people are behaving. It’s
an irony that while in such kind of systems machines can understand our
emotions (even better and faster than us) and try to control them based on pre-
fed rules, the same machines are neither possessing any emotions nor
do they care about it, at least not yet.

In China, the ruling party calls it “social credit” and says it will be fully operational
by 2020. As claims by official Party the social credit “allow the trustworthy to
roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a
single step”. Social credit is like a personal scorecard for each of China’s 1.4
billion citizens. In one pilot program already in place, each citizen has been
assigned a score out of 800. In other programs it’s 900. This credit system is
quite rewarding for the so-called “good citizens”. People with top “citizen
scores” get preferential treatment at hotels and airports, cheap loans and a fast
track to the best universities and jobs. Those at the bottom can be locked out
of society and banned from travel, or barred from getting credit or government

This looks like a perfect marriage of Information technology with society. That is
what we dream of in a perfect society or social structure. Reward the good and
punish the bad. But this is perfect only in theory, in the real world it has many
disastrous implications. In china one victim of this credit system was
investigative journalist Liu Hu, whose access to rail travel and to his 2 million
followers was stopped after he supposedly made “accusations of government

In such type of system, there are numerous ways of collecting your data. There
would be smartphone apps to collect data and monitor online behavior on a
day-to-day basis, traditional sources like government records, including
educational and medical, state security assessments and financial records, and
in case of China, the live video feeds of 200 million CCTV cameras. You are on
the constant watch of government and your individual privileges and rights can
be degraded at any point in time on the will of some emotionless machine.
This social credit is not affected by just internet browsing and shopping
decisions you make it also gets affected by seeing who your friends and family
are. If your best friend or your relative says something negative about the
government, you are going to lose points too.

This has a major social implication in the future. You will not only have a different
yardstick of choosing your friends and social circles but you would also be afraid
of criticizing a bad decision by the authority or government. The concept of
liberalism is founded on a conception of individual free will but in a new
machine-controlled era that is fast becoming out of date. The centralized data-
processing systems are “the highway to digital dictatorship" (Yuval Harari).
It is not clear that most Chinese people understand the implications yet but
many in the industry do. Over 1400 Google employees had signed a letter of
protest against Google’s involvement in Chinese censorship.
Think about it and make yourself aware of the possible future outcomes.

Please feel free to write back at kamal.karnatak@ciosofindia.com