Adventures of a rambling mind:  The other day I chanced to look at a piece of tile that Elaine had placed on the window sill of the guest room bath.

That got me to thinking about a few other such tiles we’ve collected over the years.  A few from cruises we’ve been on and such.

Ultimately, a question arose:  What are these tiles and why do we keep them?  Not like we need knickknacks to move around, dust and care for.  After a bit of reflection it dawned on me that people keep “awards” because at our core, humans are problem-solving, stimulus-response, creatures.

It started for me as a Cub Scout.  Mrs. Brooks and I think it was Troop 793.  The Cub Scout book was filled with awards that we worked on.  I remember getting my fire award and several others.  Along with each chapter of troop activities there would be awards handed out that, in turn, were sewn on our uniforms…  I longed to someday own the Popsicle sticks and glue franchise.

School did somewhat the same thing.  Different color stars based on levels of accomplishment and participation.  Stars went away and were replaced by letter-grades…so goes brain-washing.

Eventually, as I grew up, the awards of childhood disappeared and the ONLY award that began to matter was the one reported in my Bank Statements;  then Investment Performance Reports…you know the drill.

As I was staring at this tile, a familiar old problem reappeared:  How do we accredit humans? Especially in the age of social media where everyone is screaming “Me-me-me!!!” at the top of their lungs.

With so many people clamoring for attention, how do we sort the worthwhile views from the crap?

I mean, if this was Boy Scouts, I  could look at a uniform and see who had how many patches and that would be a clue.  In the military, if you can count stripes and estimate age, you can guess who the producers (or the brown-nosers!) are. But, as you move into adulthood, it becomes increasingly hard to figure out who’s “full of it” and “who’s got creds” on something.  We live in “Fake Land.”

Oh, sure, people who write books are considered to have some subject matter expert views (SME’s they’re called), but in general?

People I know are actually frustrated by the this problem.  One told me:  “I met this personal recently who sounded really cool and who might be a good friend and someone to know…but then I looked at their Facebook page…yikes!)

Hence the “accreditation” problem.

When I got to thinking about it – different name, different label of course, but isn’t this really what China is starting to work on with their social credits program?  And, to what extent is Google’s “Dragon-something” project to do search in China  linked into social-scoring and social engineering?

Darkly:  Will information access be based on social credits?  The rise of the Computational Caste System is coming into view.

Information Overload at Work

We can look at problems of modern marketers and sense how the “accreditation” and “credibility” problems are emerging to strangle us as a culture.

If you’re not a professional marketer, you may not be aware of HubSpot, but they offer a number of key insights into how this rising tide of information is resulting is massive cultural tune-out to available information.  From their website consider these data:

  • More than 200 million phone numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry.
  • 44% of direct mail is never opened.
  • And 86% of people skip TV commercials.

When I was running marketing in the early 2000’s in Los Angeles, we could see the trend coming.  The price of direct-response advertising leads were on the rise.

Moreover, the direct-response advertising model was showing its age.  People are looking for more.  In short, they’re looking for accreditation of some kind.  Buyer reassurance in advance.  This spills into personal relations, too.

Which is why we see a general rise in the number of business with Better Business Bureau mentions and things like JD Powers rankings becoming more important in consumer choice-making.  Ditto right down to the book-writer level:  People make decisions on which books to buy on Amazon as much based on how many stars a book has and what its ranking is, as the title/cover art and content summary.

What’s going on?

Social Accreditation

The solutions in business (more complex, mixed-model sales/customer response systems) work.  And the matter of “accreditation” has quietly been slipped into government regulations.  Outfits like E-Verify check to see that your I-9 work form matches Social Security and runs it with Homeland Security.

We’ve literally seen a “papers please” regimen installed (ostensibly for the public good)  thanks to be biggest make-work project in history:  9/11.

That doesn’t solve the people side when people go home after work.  China’s trying to work that side via their social credits program.  The problem is a government approach to “accreditation of humans” could be a first-step toward sorting out “Who’s a Useless Eater.”  After that, what?  Downgraded food, castration of males?  Eugenics?

Consider this Wikipedia extract of what China has planned for their Social Credit System *(SCS):

Implications for citizens
From the Chinese government Plan for Implementation, the SCS is due to be fully implemented by 2020. Once implemented the system will manage the rewards, or punishments, of citizens on the basis of their economic and personal behavior. Some types of punishments include: flight ban, exclusion from private schools, slow internet connection, exclusion from high prestige work, exclusion from hotels, and registration on a public blacklist.

Travel ban
By May 2018, several million flight and high-speed train trips had been denied. The people denied were on a blacklist. The exact reasons for people being placed on the list are unknown. Business Insider speculated that the reason could be the debtors list created by the SPC. (Supreme People’s Court.)

Exclusion from private schools
If the parents of a child score below a certain threshold, their children would be excluded from top schools in the region.

Social status
One’s personal score could be used as a social symbol on social and couples platforms. For example, China’s biggest matchmaking service, Baihe, already allows its users to publish their own score.

Other
The rewards of having a high score include easier access to loans and jobs and priority during bureaucratic paperwork. Likewise, the immediate negative consequences for a low score, or being associated to someone with a low score, ranges from lower internet speeds to being denied access to certain jobs, loans and visas.

The Computational Caste System

This is really the danger   This is how American-style freedom and the ability to rise or fall on personal merit can be stolen with the power to “make or break lives” wrested from individuals and seized by governments.

It’s underway in China right now.  And we can almost safely predict that the next ‘fad” (as a kind of bogus award) on social media will be some cobbled-up social credit-like scam.  It’s another reason we aren’t big participants in Social Media – I mean in addition to they can’t seem to keep passwords secret…

There are some groups like Mensa that have some creds.  The Special Forces Association, too.  Retired Fire Fighters and Retired Police.  But, when comes to social scoring, there’s a huge – non-government – opportunity for someone to come up with a public voluntary system before the US Government seizes the high ground and goes China-like on US population.

I’ve got some ideas on a business plan for such a program, But, it will take some capital and some energy which would fit with a social platform.  The risk?  That each of the social platforms will come up with their own ranking systems and these in turn will be mostly those causes and beliefs that drive traffic, not those that promote personal excellence and the achieving of something other than han ding out “social activism badges.”

Meantime, remember that the first big press for social engineering (via credits) was a bad idea of the mid 1920’s – and it’s yet-another predictable replay of bad ideas from the past in the lead-in to the next Depression which will be along soon-enough.

Write when you get rich,

george@ure.net