Creating the honest man

Kai Strittmatter:

It is actually very simple, the professor in Beijing says. “There are two kinds of people in the world: good people and bad people. Now imagine a world in which the good ones are rewarded and the bad ones punished”. A world in which those who respect their parents, avoid jaywalking, and pay all their bills on time are rewarded for good behavior. A world where such people enjoy special privileges, where they are allowed to buy “soft sleeper” tickets on a train or get easy access to bank loans. In contrast, the poorly behaved – the ones who cheat on university admissions tests, download films illegally, or have more children than the state allows – are denied this extra comfort. It is a world in which an omnipresent, all-knowing digital mechanism knows more about you than you do. This mechanism can help you improve yourself because it can tell you, in real time, where you failed and what you can do to become a more honest and trustworthy person. And who doesn’t want a world full of fairness and harmony?

Honesty. In Shanghai, there is an app for that: it’s called “Honest Shanghai”. You just download it and register. The app uses facial recognition software to recognize you and gain access to troves of your personal data, which is drawn from different government entities. According to the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Economy and Informatization, where the data converge, the app can currently access exactly 5,198 pieces of information from a total of 97 public authorities. It knows whether you’ve paid your electricity bill, donated blood, or travelled on the subway without paying for a ticket. The software then processes the information and lets you know whether your recorded behavior is considered “good”, “bad” or “neutral”. Good Shanghaiers are currently allowed, for instance, to borrow books from the public library without paying the mandatory 100-yuan deposit.