China’s Social Credit System should not be replicated, but could blockchain microcredentials be the key to empowering tomorrow’s workforce? Andrew B Raupp investigates.
From inequality to infrastructure, harnessing technological systems can help us create solutions and stronger connections to the resources that sustain us all.
Yet some applications of advanced technology may potentially create more problems than they solve.
As the world begins to experiment with digital innovations, one such plan, China’s Social Credit System, offers a cautionary tale to other countries on how not to leverage information against its citizens.
So, what is this approach, and how can other countries avoid such tactics while still determining an appropriate method of measuring someone’s potential contributions to our shared society?
The pressures of being a model citizen
Innovations in wearable and IoT technology means that various sources of information can be connected and scored with greater ease.
This allows the Chinese government to paint a full picture of someone’s overall trustworthiness in society.
The system harnesses an unimaginable array of data points, and, as The Conversation reports, citizens may find themselves penalised for small infractions, including cancelled restaurant reservations and jaywalking.
This system tabulates — and digitally castigates — both individuals and corporations for infractions deemed societally offensive, so proponents see the Social Credit System as a means of forcing greater transparency with companies as well as greater personal responsibility for individuals.
However, this approach may appear far too punitive and, what’s more concerning, it’s seemingly possible in the western world thanks to the rise of big data and increased surveillance.
A system like this offers some benefits but the drawbacks — invasion of privacy, public shaming and blacklisting — should raise red flags in a truly free society.
How appropriate use of technology can create a culture of positive achievement
Encouraging citizens to aspire to be supportive community members who take responsibility and demonstrate shared respect is not a sinister intention at its heart.
So, how can other countries avoid invasive, punitive action while still promoting a shared culture of progress and forward thinking?
1. Keep academic and professional achievements separate from credit score and background checks
While employers, banks, landlords and potential business partners certainly want to have a holistic picture that includes unlawful activity or outstanding debts, these concerns should not automatically overshadow legitimate academic and/or professional achievements.
Separating these different categories of ‘success’ and personal responsibility can allow for a more targeted review of skills or other areas of trustworthiness, as needed.
2. Focus on proficiency
By celebrating achievements and outcomes, we can build a stronger culture of hard work and innovation, and open up channels of progress.
If someone with a traditionally impeachable background — or an individual at risk of engaging in such activity — has the opportunity to learn and demonstrate their innate skillsets, they may be less likely to offend or reoffend if they feel empowered and are given the opportunity to do so.
In addition, a greater focus on proficiency versus deficiency can lead to clarity in both the hiring and evaluation process of employers in a range of industries.
3. Use blockchain micro-credentialing to evaluate performance and job readiness
What have many of them received in exchange for this ongoing financial burden? Too often, inadequate preparation for the sophisticated, tech-driven jobs of tomorrow.
One solution is to offer a consistent, streamlined process for blockchain-secured micro-credentials that could be stored in personal digital portfolios, ideally with mobile device access and integration.
Recipients can present these verified, earned, consistently recognisable credentials to employers.
As opposed to defaulting to following the traditional path of higher education or vocational school, students could attend shorter, more impactful courses that transfer specific, actionable skills for a range of industries and fields.
4. Gamify/incentivise accomplishments through positive reinforcement
While this suggestion may earn eye rolls from those who characterise the millennial workforce as needing validation, the reality is that building a culture of positive reinforcement means a range of benefits for both bottom line and workplace culture.
Providing incentives and additional motivation for employees to build their skills may also help avoid the dreaded workplace burnout, which contributes to a depressed economy where overstressed workers are stuck pulling the slack.
Citizens could remain competitive in the modern workforce by earning credit for existing skills as well as pursuing additional qualifications.
For example, language literacy could be earned as a badge as well as advanced technical skills, such as web development and coding.
By presenting scores of highly specific blockchain-secured micro-credentials (and a possible universal scoring system), it may help employers more aptly evaluate performance and match people with jobs or roles that they will excel in.
A path forward — it’s all about balance and accessibility
While China’s proposed system of rating its citizens and corporations may well seem like something straight out of the popular series Black Mirror, the availability of technology to monitor and collect our most private information is more readily available than ever before.
Instead of being divided over an ever-encroaching reach of government and capital on our personal information, we should take a proactive approach to leverage technology for solutions that allow us to communicate our strengths, without being penalised for negligible shortcomings.
Increased positive transparency will lead to greater connectivity, and our ability to share information is what has allowed us to progress to our current point in modern society.
However, without care and forethought, we may find ourselves stuck in a technologically advanced, undemocratic system that offers little room for personal or professional advancement.
If the western world were to adopt a more specialised system for ‘rating’ citizens, the viable approach would be to marry the solutions outlined above with a means of offering a greater focus on wellbeing, access to education and advancement for all members of society.
Before we can set up a scoreboard, we must do our best to secure it with the latest decentralised technologies, empowering those who ‘cross on red’, and decide to pursue other means besides a traditional academic track.
This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on March 6th, 2018.