Recently, I have been paying attention to many discussions around the increasingly intrusive nature of data collection and loss of privacy and of anonymity. The current COVID19 pandemic situation has made these concerns a reality. There will be data collection using location information using smart phones that can be traced to a specific person. The data collection will include not just where a person is, but also who is nearby, and especially those who encroach within the social distancing ranges. The data will be used to identify people who are in certain places at certain times and then have some authority track them down later to communicate information about the implications of their earlier encounters. In fact, the tracing may go beyond communication to a requirement to self isolate for two weeks with punitive risks for disobedience.
Nearly all of the discussions I have been following have been negative to this kind of intrusion. Most are to the extent that this kind of intrusiveness needs to be resisted, or this is violating of some basic human rights such as those enumerated in the US Constitution. Even those that defend the new practices usually defend it as a necessary sacrifice for a greater public good. They are implying a concession that the human-right violation is real but regrettably necessary.
Contact tracing will become widespread if not universal. People will need to carry their smart phones everywhere in public, and those phones will need to be equipped and enabled with location and proximity tracking. We will soon have something resembling what is already in place in China, with an app that displays a QR code identifying the person and their current health status, the code itself colored for visually confirming their health status: green is confirmed free of disease, yellow indicates their recent activity requires renewed testing, and red indicates the person needs to self isolate.
These colors will update automatically based on user’s activities.
- Green may turn yellow when social distancing is violated with someone who had a red code.
- Yellow may turn red when some business entrance detects a fever on the person entering.
- Red may change back to yellow after a successful (verified) period of self isolation has elapsed.
- Yellow may only change back to green after 3 consecutive negative tests of infection.
While these are not in effect yet in the USA, I am fairly confident they will arrive soon. Once this is in place, this will be the new normal. Every social or public encounter will be subject to a QR-code color challenge. Any person interacting with someone with a non-green QR-code runs the risk of losing their own green QR codes.
This does have a benefit of having some method of identify who is safe to interact with. The downside is that everyone will shun (with justifiable fear of losing their green status) anyone with a non-green code. The old normal was to not fear anyone. The new normal is to fear everyone unless they can prove their green status. Similarly, there will emerge a subculture of non-green status holders. The yellows will self-segregate from the greens. The reds may be condemned to solitary confinement.
In more recent news with widespread protests involving vandalism and looting, there is a discussion of immediately leveraging the same system to track down the participants and their associates. This does not surprise me, and it is seems inevitable. Once the system is in place, it will be applicable for any thing needing to restore the public good.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the same system might be used in the other direction, to track down those who avoided participating in the protests or acted in some way to disrupt it. It would work either way, depending on who is in control. No one will escape the potential of being downgraded.
In China, the coding may also be used for social scoring. The status may depend on how well a person behaves or obeys current standards. The standards may involve particular laws or rules, or the standards may be more subjective such as peer reviews. A person getting a lot of “dislikes” on their profiles could similarly be punished with a diminished social score. The same technology used for proximity detection could be used to transfer a dislike to a stranger passing by. As with contact tracing, the individual deciding to participate in public must accept the risk of getting demoted in social acceptance.
The identification of social acceptance will follow the individual everywhere he will go. Without an adequate social acceptance score, that person will be denied access to various public establishments, government services, banking services, or even of basic accommodation services. In order to restore access to these services, the individual must follow certain rules. For the current COVID19 situation, the rules may involve a period of social isolation followed by submitting to testing. For the protests, the rules may involve submitting to questioning by authorities with a display of adequate cooperation in their investigations. For cases of social scoring, the rules may involve psychological testing or rehabilitation.
Inevitably, this system will be used politically. People will be able to demand evidence of correct voting or public participation before permitting interaction or commerce. After the 2016 election, this occurred on social media where people isolated themselves from others who could not prove they voted the same way they did. This extended to online dating applications where profiles forbade anyone who didn’t vote the right way.
Yesterday, while walking through town I took a different path that I rarely used. Along that path is a restaurant and it had a sign in the door forbidding anyone from entering if they had any symptoms of illness in the past 14 days. An initial impression is that this is reasonable for public safety, but this is quickly followed by why would it be necessary to post such a notice. Previously, it was just expected that sick people should stay home until they get better. It was also expected that people who did choose to socialize would be presenting little to no risk to others in terms of spreading something. We have always lived in a world where there are contagious diseases and some of them could be very nasty when infecting a vulnerable person whose vulnerability would only be knowable after they get sick. Also, we have always lived comfortably in social settings where some in the crowd were in fact still infectious, but we did not have any concerns and there were rarely any consequences.
Now, we have to enter an establishment primed with the fear of entering a hazardous environment. Along with this fear is the elevated diligence to check out everyone else for signs of their being infectious. Within this kind of environment, it would be a great relief to everyone if everyone could display their current green color code on their smart phones.
Instead of waving hands, we would wave our smart phones, glass-side facing the other person, with the green code clearly visible. Everyone smiles. Failing to greet in this fashion will get the person ejected.
The thought that occurred to me with the appearance of the sign is that this is now fully acceptable to set rules of this nature for entering some establishment. Once we accept this kind of signs identifying forbidden patron, we will accept future signs that will add additional stipulations such as not participating (or proof of participation) in a protest, or of having a favorable like/dislike ratio.
Just as we have irretrievably lost the pre-COVID19 normal of liberties with the imposition of restrictions against non-essential behaviors, we now have irretrievably lost our pre-COVID19 implicit of trust of being safe in any public space unless there is evidence to raise suspicions. Now are default is distrust without evidence of trustworthiness. This is a profound change in public life that we have no choice but to learn how to adapt.
The bigger challenge is to learn how to convince everyone you meet that you are safe. I’m thinking about the basic and simple greeting of a stranger. In the past, we can greet someone and there was a good chance they would respond because of the implicit trust of safety in a public space. Now that interaction must be preceded by presentation and inspection of credentials, and most people would not want to take the time and just ignore the greeting entirely.
The future will be a further increase in inequality, not just financially but socially. The system already favor celebrities are who have luxury of being able to approach nearly everyone and receiving an eager reception. The new rules will make that even more ready as everyone will avoid anyone who does not have some type of celebrity status.
In the past, the non-celebrities were able to associate freely among themselves. Now such interactions will require production of some evidence that the interaction is safe from degrading one’s own score. This will apply even among established acquaintances, each interaction requires a challenge for evidence of being safe to interact.
I am very pessimistic about how this will work out and yet resigned to this being inevitable. I dread what is happening.
I recently watched an impressively researched and presented documentary on Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The last episode emphasized the goals of population control. This is the establishment of a global system of identification that permits continuous tracking of individuals and regulates their access to public resources. This is being set up for many reasons, not just disease control. This system is more efficient for accessing services from financial and government systems.
The documentary paints a bleak future and presents a case that we should avoid allowing this to happen, or at least that we seriously contemplate the implications before allowing this to happen. Hopefully, my discussion above shows my agreement at this level. We are about to lose our autonomy, individual liberties, and anonymity in public. We will give these to a global system that will diminish our relevance to where we fit in the global society as a whole. Our utility will be reduced to what can be measured and our relative utility will be how we measure up against the rest.
In that documentary, I think a major part of the concern is that the new system will be under control of a very small population of elites who are outside of this system everyone else must participate in. This elite population has a coherent set of shared values and use that power in a dictatorial sense. Even if that elite starts off being relatively benign, there is no reason to expect their descendants will inherent that same benevolence. Eventually, this will end up in relative misery for the vast population at least as compared to what we enjoyed before.
In this blog site, I have been describing a government by data and urgency that I called a dedomenocracy. This type of government has a very similar requirement for this type of intrusive data collection and immediate individual identification in public. I started off talking about this several years ago when I described my fears that are comparable to the currently discussed fears of intrusiveness. Over time, I have found some benefits so that later posts actually appear to promote this as something we should pursue. I still fear the consequences, but I’m more optimistic that it may offer many advantages over our current systems of government.
The advantage of my conceived dedomenocracy is that it eliminates any human in the role of making decisions or even of vetoing any machine decision. The population participates in a democratic fashion to collect and verify data, and to select and tune decision algorithms according the desired parameters to optimize for. The actual decisions come from those algorithms without any input or oversight from any humans. Theoretically the decisions will be the best options to meet the democratically approved objectives. In contrast, our current government permits individuals to make decisions on their own whims as long as they had previously been elected by the population.
A dedomenocracy makes decisions based on all the currently available information that I assume is very extensive (and intrusive). Also, the decisions are consistent with the objectives that the people democratically approved long before the decisions. In addition, this concept of dedomenocracy only makes decisions during times of urgency and even then the decisions automatically expire after a short period of time. I envision a government that implicitly trusts the people and the people returns the favor by trusting this government. This trust in the population is not explicit but instead a consequence of the priority to collect clean data about what the populations behaviors and capabilities in the absence of any government interference.
The default state of this type of government is one of no rules at all. I imagine there will always be some rules enforced, but the rules will change frequently where new enforceable rules will replace old rules that will no longer be enforced. At the extreme, this type of government may not have any rules for laws we currently take for granted such as laws against robbery or murder. The population will have to deal with these questions outside of the government unless they collectively express an urgency the invoked a government solution. Even then, the government solution is short lived and people will eventually have to deal with these kinds of problems themselves.
I wrote much earlier that I imagined that in such a government there will emerge semi-autonomous communities that will self-police through customs or standards. This communities will self-segregate into like-minded people who are ready to agree to follow some system of common morals and to have some form of coercion for compliance within the community. There will be many such communities and they will have defended borders.
I imagine that they may set up a miniature version of dedomenocracy for their local governance similar to how US States follow the basic outline of the Federal government’s constitution. That said, I expect many communities will develop some level of martial capabilities with an ability to exert force on their populations or their neighboring communities.
One thing I never really explored or explained is how does the dedomenocracy exert the force to enforce its ruling. Despite using all available data and of a widely accepted set of objectives, any ruling will have objectors. Even if they agree with the objectives and their necessity given the available data, they will still object to the sacrifices that they will make while others would benefit. What force does the dedomenocracy have if the decision making is purely from machines?
This is compounded by the largely libertarian nature of this government. Normally there are not many laws that are enforceable. This will make it hard to maintain a professional police force or army. When there is a state of urgency, there will be rules that need to be enforced.
The dedomenocracy has other options of enforcement that we currently do not have. Those options go back to those social scoring and global individual traffic features that I described so negatively at first. People will not be able to access fundamental services unless they can get their identity cleared of any negative holds on their activities. A person would not be able to make a purchase, or access a facility (or transportation), or even access their home unless they have the appropriate status on their identity.
The dedomenocracy works by having extensive and intrusive information on each individual. The dedomenocracy has a record over every person’s activities and locations at all times. With this information, the machine would automatically change the status associated with an individual’s identity, much the same way as the COVID19 contact tracing would change someone’s status from Green to Yellow based on close contact with someone with a Red status. Once the status is changed, the person would lose access to many things he would want or even need.
To get that access back, the individual would have abundant incentives to seek to change his status back to normal. He would turn himself in for some form of rehabilitation to restore his status. No police force would be required to apprehend him, and no jail or bail would be needed to restrain him. He needs to get his status restored in order to get his normal life back.
I recognize that this concept needs much more thought to explain how it would work, but imagine a system where we had such intrusive control over individuals that a simple status change will reliably get that individual to voluntarily seek out a remedy.
Contrast that scenario with the recent controversy of another unjustified killing during the process of police apprehension of an alleged criminal. While the current controversies focus on the racial aspects of this encounter, there are many other encounters where people are killed or seriously injured in the actual act of apprehending someone. Sometimes those deaths or injuries are or innocent bystanders and many of these are the result of unavoidable risks of any exertion of force. There are also cases of “suicide by cop” where the victim exploits this use of force by the arriving police.
The social status type system could offer a way to greatly reduce the need for police force to apprehend a suspected criminal. All that would be necessary would be to change that person’s credit score so that he will no longer be able to use most of public or social resources. A change in this status would turn off his ability to get groceries, get communication services, or even get access to his home (if in apartment or gated communities). That change is status is sufficient for that individual to eventually seek out a remedy that will allow the government to deal with him appropriately. No police force required.
There will remain some persistent fugitives who are able to find an off-grid existence perhaps with some underground or black-market economy. I’m assuming a very extensive capability of data collection and access controls that will make such underground economies to be very difficult to exist or sustain themselves. Eventually every will need to partake in some service from the monitored and access-controlled economy. At that point, the fugitive will have the incentive to correct his status voluntarily.
Another element of my concept of dedomenocracy is its tolerance for some degree of mischief. Some people will be able to escape justice but as long as they are few in number and not significantly disrupted, they can be tolerated. There is no requirement to apprehend everyone.
Even current system can only apprehend a small fraction of the total population of violators, and this makes the tragic consequences of apprehensions gone wrong all the more objectionable. We know we can’t apprehend everyone, so we do need to exert so much force to apprehend one person who resists.
The dedomenocracy approach also has a deterrent effect that encourages voluntary compliance or voluntary submissions. That deterrent is the result of the totalitarian power granted to it when the population as a whole expresses and urgency to correct some issue. Once triggered, the rules could be very oppressive and everyone would want to get free of them as soon as possible. If such rules are in place, people will be motivated to respond in a way to allow the rule to expire and in a way that relieves the majority from feeling an urgency for a follow on rule.
We see that happening today with the COVID19 lock-down rules first imposed two months ago. People are voluntarily restructuring their lives to meet the original spirit of the rules. In a dedomenocracy people will see this cooperation and reduce their feeling of urgency so that they would not invoke a follow on rule when the current one expired (as it would have already have done). We could not be living with full liberty and autonomy but we would have adapted to a new normal, part of which is to reassure our neighbors that there is less reason for them to be concerned.
Instead, we have to live in this obsolete form of government that perpetuates every law. There is nothing the people can do to turn the law off. As more of them decide to follow their common sense, the government will need to punish them, with force that is allowed to escalate to the point of causing death in order to counter any resistance.
When we say that it was not appropriate for police to cause death in their attempts to apprehend someone, we could be challenging whether the forceful apprehension itself was necessary. We have the tools today to have the person voluntarily show up to court to clear his social credit score so he can resume his normal life.