Sesame Credit: Gamified Obedience

I need you to watch this video, because it demonstrates a really problematic development starting in China:

I must admit that the Chinese are really brilliant in this regard. They know how to use the scientific knowledge about psychology and gamification to further their own goals. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us too much: Anything that science discovers can be used for good and bad purposes. In any case, it’s interesting to see the China seems to be at the bleeding edge of translating science into effective politics, and not the USA, the UK, the Nordic countries, Japan, South Korea, or any other country!

Anyway, the system looks brilliantly designed. What makes it even scarier is that it could give reputation systems in general a bad rep, including Quantified Prestige! So, what to do about this issue?

I think there are many angles to this, and we need to discuss them in depth. So, I expect this thread to become rather long. It’s an important topic after all!

A look towards a freaky 2030

Let’s start with a projection into the future. We live in the year 2030 and almost all countries introduce systems like Sesame Credit, because they see how great they work for China. So, why not use the most effective tools to further their own (of course benign!) agenda?

If we want things to get seriously freaky, imagine that by 2030 some countries have introduced a basic income, but now decide to couple its height to the personal state reputation score of each citizen! Holy moly! Now we have perverted one of the most liberating tools into a tool for oppression and conformity!

Now some people might say: But isn’t that similar to how Quantified Prestige works? To some degree it is, but the difference between QP and systems like Sesame Credit is that QP is decentralized and peer to peer, while SC is top down and algorithmic (with the rulers determining the algorithms). With QP you have the rule of the crowd. With SC you have the rule of the centralized government. Both can be quite problematic in their own right, but if you want to mess something up severely, you need a big government for doing that.

So, I’m admitting that reputation systems are problematic per se. This is a problem that goes deeper than some regime using reputation systems for controlling its populace. Reputation systems encourage conformity. This doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. If we think about criminal and unethical actions, we are glad about having tools that encourage conformity – laws and their enforcement mechanisms are the classical tools for that. It’s when we think about dysfunctional systems that we don’t want conformity with those. But can we really distinguish the good from the bad?

Consequences of disobedience

Ok, now let’s take a step back. Actually, systems like SC only make more visible what has existed since the dawn of civilization in all societies: Supporting the governing powers and the rules and norms of society grants those supporters privileges; opposing them invites punishments. Those rewards and punishments are always responses of society to the behaviour of individuals. That’s the case in general in all societies. Any society needs social feedback mechanisms in order to remain stable. If it fails to be stable, there will be a revolution, and those aren’t necessarily pleasant to live through.

Oppression always works the same. If you disagree with people vehemently, and you are not powerful or in the majority, you will have to deal with negative consequences of one form or another. There’s no way around that. It’s a basic law of society. People who want to change something always need to fight against the resistance of the society they want to create that change in. There’s no other option. No society will let any change happen without fierce resistance. Learning to overcome that resistance is necessary. It builds character.

A glimmer of hope

Let’s get back to SC again. It’s a tool that is useful for the government, and those who want to be rewarded for conformity. But at the same time it can also be used by dissidents. Dissidents can recognize one another very easily by looking at the people with a really low SC score. A low SC score means actually a high dissidence score! That’s quite useful. Dissidents now can join forces much more easily.

Of course, at the same time, the government can crack down on dissidents much more easily, too, but that is an obviously oppressive move that might trigger the masses to join forces with the dissidents, so it’s risky. I’m not saying that SC makes life easier for dissidents, but among its dangers there are its own advantages!

Can this development be stopped?

I guess with sufficient protests, the introduction of SC-like systems can be delayed indefinitely in democratic nations. China is a different story, of course.

What should we do about this?

I won’t this let stop me from developing QP. If anything, it should make me work on it harder. I need to point out how QP is not like SC. And where it actually may create problematic developments, I need to find out how to deal with the potential problems.

What would you do, if a system like SC was introduced in your country and was mandatory to use?