01.15.18 | Social Engineering (China)

“In a perfectly efficient society man is redundant”

 Len Barron, quoted at an audience talk-back at the World Affairs Conference some decades ago

The man behind that quote will join us for Member Monday (1/15). Many of you know Len Barron as Boulder’s own educator, playwright, director, writer, and dancer, whom most recognize for that one-man Einstein performance -- the one celebrating that physicist's deep sense of humanity marked by fairness, beauty, and playfulness. Those are words not commonly associated with efficiency.

So let us then reflect back on that quote as we discuss man’s standing in a world increasingly seduced by efficiencies, the efficiencies of technology that is. We are accorded a front row seat to such spectacle by way of  “Inside China’s Vast New Experiment In Social Engineering” (link: https://www.wired.com/story/age-of-social-credit/). The venue may be overseas but the phenomenon most assuredly is not. It’s America’s embrace as well.

We, of course, have long become accustomed to the world of credit tracking, purchases recording, and GPS locating. Many have even become quite comfortable voluntarily giving up so many details of their daily lives, all in the interests of “connecting.”  These are among the seemingly small trade-offs we willingly or unwillingly make with little thought to consequences.

Well, then, behold China. Witness the consequences on display there even now — man slowly reduced to an algorithm. Private data aggregators triangulate countless input streams — what you buy, the degrees you hold, the credit scores of both you and those of your friends, your driving habits, your travel patterns, complaints lodged against you — to score you in a unified system. Life perks are then extended or withheld accordingly. And that’s just the private sector.

It’s then a simple extrapolation to catch a glimpse of its merger into the public sphere. The People’s Bank of China, eyeing an equity stake in the major technology companies, has ordered certain companies to feed their data into a central government clearinghouse. Data feeds then widen in scope to incorporate even broader behavior parameters. That which can be measured can be controlled. Man devolves into a piece-part. That’s the ultimate efficiency part.

So what happens to things like beauty and playfulness? They're not part of the algorithm. It’s the number that is you. And you are the number. Those other things are redundant.

Steve SmithComment