The tyranny of algorithms is part of our lives

Using a secret algorithm, Sesame credit constantly scores people from 350 to 950, and its ratings are based on factors including considerations of “interpersonal relationships” and consumer habits. Bluntly put, being friends with low-rated people is bad news. Buying video games, for example, gets you marked down. Participation is voluntary but easily secured, thanks to an array of enticements. High scores unlock privileges such as being able to rent a car without a deposit, and fast-tracked European visa applications. There are also more romantic benefits: the online dating service Baihe gives people with good scoresprominence on its platforms.

Exactly how all this will relate to the version of social credit eventually implemented is unclear: licences that might have enabled the systems to be rolled out further ran out last year. There again, Ant Financial has stated that it wants to “help build a social integrity system” – and the existing public and private pilots have a similar sense of social control, and look set to feed the same social divisions. If you are mouldering away towards the bottom of the hierarchies, life will clearly be unpleasant. But if you manage to be a high-flyer, the pleasures of fast-tracking and open doors will be all yours, though even the most fleeting human interaction will give off the crackle of status anxiety.



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