In my book, Rise Up: How to Build a Socially Conscious Company, I made a number of predictions about the future, ranging from the rise of women to a more equitable and influential role in the workplace to the growth of worker collectives, such as co-ops and employee-owned companies, in the marketplace.
I also predicted that ratings systems would proliferate in every walk of life, from companies to cities to individuals:
“I can clearly see the evolution of a rating system born in the purpose movement that’s adapted for consumers. Think of it like this: As a consumer, you will be rated on a number of fronts, from your energy usage to your charitable donations, from your volunteer hours and social advocacy to the purchases you make from certified companies. You’ll receive a number based upon these actions, which will be fluid and gamified by companies to serve multiple purposes: Stroke your ego, encourage measurable improvement of sustainable actions, and provide behavior-based rewards such as discounts and special offers. I can even see your ‘number’ being used as an employment screen or to align values and actions with prospective dating opportunities.”
Well, guess who’s launching that individual ratings system first? No, it’s not a company; it’s a government. China has been testing what it calls a “social-credit score” that aims to rank people across many facets of their lives.
From Wired to the New York Times Sunday Magazine, media outlets have ramped up the reporting about China’s social-credit score this fall. Eight Chinese companies now have government licenses to develop prototypes for a social-credit score. One consortium’s algorithm rates individuals on a number of areas: credit history, successful fulfillment of legal contracts, personal characteristics, behavior and preference, and interpersonal relationships.
The goal is to engender “trustworthiness” by measuring how trustworthy an individual is and to build a “culture of sincerity.”
Participation currently is voluntary, but will become mandatory by 2020.
Rachel Botsman, writing for Wired, put this spin on it: “Your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school — or even just your chances of getting a date.”
Funny — it looks like I wasn’t so far off on that dating prediction, after all!
I find this idea fascinating and, probably like you, more than a little scary. Through my rose-colored private-sector glasses, I hadn’t thought a government would be the first to spur this on.
But of course, it would, in a world that seems increasingly Orwellian. Like everything, there is yin and yang to this, light and dark. You can see where this might go with a government collecting this kind of data (not good, though we gladly give similar information up to Facebook and the other social media titans — our new governments in the making — all for the opportunity to share cat photos with friends). The data could also be used to incentivize behavior for the collective social good — I know I’d respond favorably to acknowledgment and reward for recycling, volunteering, socially conscious purchasing and riding my bike to work, among other actions.
I’d be interested to hear what you think about the yin and yang of the concept of social-credit scores: Would you give up more information if you were rewarded for it — and the collective results benefitted society and the planet? Or do you fall into the “hell no!” category?
Let me know.