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Is China The Role Model For Technocratic Dictatorship?

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By Mudasir sheikh

From Chinese super-rich to vegetable vendors and even beggars are rapidly embracing cashless payments, as it is sold in the name of convenience, security, and immunity from counterfeiting by the Chinese communist party. Ali pay the mobile payment service of Ant Financial, the financial arm of Alibaba group holdings and WeChat the mobile payment service of Tencent holdings are top two mobile payment services in China and are under the complete control of Chinese government. According to the reports of Forrester Research the value of mobile payments during 2016 in the US was $126 billion USD and at the same time it was $9 trillion USD in China and reached $38 trillion USD till the end of 2017.
China is not only adopting mobile payment options but the authorities are also pushing for AI based facial recognition payment systems. KFC pioneered the facial recognition payment system in its Hangzhou branch where customers face is enough to pay for its services. The system uses “Liveness” an AI algorithm and a system of 3D cameras that recognizes a person by analysing about 600 facial features, later this data is matched with government database and after the identification of the person the amount is deducted from his bank account. It is obvious that more personal data is being collected that can be used for targeted marketing and for the confiscation of the wealth of the honest citizens if they don’t comply with the government authorities which is perfectly in compliance with the Orwellian nightmare of technocratic dictatorship.
In addition to cashless society the dream of technocratic dictatorship is incomplete with the use of private block chain technology. China banned Bitcoin, but they are among the early adopters of blockchain the same technology behind Bitcoin. Peoples Bank of China which is about to issues a private blockchain based cryptocurrency and Alibaba Group which holds most of the patents related to blockchain is keenly trying to exploit this technology for the internet of things. Both centrally controlled cryptocurrency and the internet of things are about complete social control; therefore they can be very helpful to Chinese communist party to realize its dream of Totalitarianism.
China included blockchain technology in its 13th five-year plan and in 2018 “international blockchain development center” has been established by China for setting future industrial standards for this technology. Recently China started to collect taxes and granting electronic invoices through blockchain technology. The smart city initiative and Blockchain based industrial parks in Hangzhou, Chengdu, and other major cities have pushed Chinese automakers and other industries to embrace blockchain technology into their business models. The Chinese blockchain development report 2018 and the recent report of people’s daily titled “three questions to blockchain” clearly indicates the interests of Chinese communist party into this technology.
Peoples bank of China is vastly exploring the options regarding centrally controlled cryptocurrency as the blockchain based digital currency and payment networks will offer the benefits of digital currency in addition to traceability and control over its use. Zhou Xiaochuan the longest Serving governor of Peoples Bank of China stated that physical coins and currency notes will shrink or completely disappear and according to Yi Fei the vice governor of Peoples Bank of China said that governments can only drive innovation into the cryptocurrencies when they will issue their own ones. The central bankers of China know that a centrally controlled cryptocurrency will give the government a greater control and enhanced monitoring over its citizens, thus money laundering and other financial crimes can be curbed. According to “Jing Xianyang” CEO of Alibaba’s Financial Arm Ant Financial, the company holds most of the patents of the blockchain technology in the world. Recently Alibaba group holdings invested $1.6 billion USD into the blockchain technology. Alibaba cloud and Xiamen are investing in blockchain initiatives that can be used for the internet of things.
A comprehensive network of CCTV cameras backed by facial recognition technology is another tool of Chinese communist party for controlling its citizens. A 31-year-old Chinese man alleged of financial crime was caught by police at a pop concert event among the crowd of 60,000 by using facial recognition technology. In August last year at Qingdao international beer festival at Shandong province of China 25 suspects were also arrested by police using facial recognition technology. China has a network of over 170 million CCTV cameras and up to 2020 further 400 million will be added to this number. According to Chinese authorities, it is next to impossible to evade this AI backed comprehensive surveillance system.
A sunglass equipped with facial recognition technology is yet another surveillance tool of Chinese police to track and capture suspects. The sunglasses match the facial features of individuals in huge crowds with an internal government database and on match with a suspicious person the data is immediately sent to the concerned police officers on the ground for arresting the suspects. Such a technology has helped Chinese authorities to capture 26 people in the central city of Zhengzhou who were carrying fake ID’s according to a report of people’s daily newspaper.
Recently south china morning post reported that in Shenzen province of China, Intellifusion an AI firm has received a government contract of installing CCTV cameras of up to 7 million pixels of resolution for identifying jaywalkers. The cameras will capture photos of jaywalkers and an AI-based facial recognition technology will identify them so that they can be fined or their photos can be displayed on large LED screens above the pavements.
A social credit score platform by the name of sesame credit has been developed by China with the help of Alibaba Group Holdings, which is world’s largest shopping platform with a customer base of over 400 million. This sesame credit system gathers information on every aspect of an individual from a minor traffic violation, taxes and traffic tickets, academic records, birth control measures to social media activities. A higher social credit score makes one’s life easy as he gets an easy access to credit, travel documentation and more job opportunities and a lower social credit score has got opposite effects. “Baihe” which provides china’s largest matchmaking service with about 90 million clients displays the sesame credit score of its clients with their dating profiles. A person with a higher credit score gets higher ranking and a lower credit score downgrades ones rank on this matrimonial platform thereby directly affecting the personal life of an individual. Currently, the credit system is in its infancy stage and is expected to reach its climax up to 2020, when every person in China will be enrolled under it.
In addition to national level credit systems, local governments in China are also using their own credit scores to discriminate among residents. The Shanghai city government launched its own smartphone app “Honest Shanghai” which uses one’s national ID number and a facial recognition system analyses one’s personal data collected by the government. Within three hours residents are ranked into one of the three categories- very good, good or bad. According to the deputy director of “Shanghai commission of economy and information” Shao Zhiqing, the authorities want to make Shanghai a global city of excellence by rewarding the honest behavior of people, but what constitutes the honesty depends upon the discretion of Chinese government.
(The author is an independent researcher and can be reached at: [email protected])