In the latest on the “oh my god we’re living in a dystopian future” chronicles, China unveils blockchain based smart cities. Continuing to work on its blockchain game, they’ve released a blockchain-based identification system for cities as part of its smart city infrastructure. Naturally this will influence how the social credit system works, further improving this already scarily efficient punitive social ranking system. 

What is it?

Chinese daily tabloid newspaper, Global Times, reported on 4 November on the terrifying identification system. The blockchain-based network was launched by three institutes in Shijiazhuang, with the aim of the project to improve connectivity and data sharing between cities. Smart cities across the country can now apply for their own city identification code and join the network. 

According to Zhang Chao, the director of the Zhongguancun Industry and Information Research Institute of Two-dimensional Code Technology, “The system will be independently distributed and managed by China, with a unified distribution rule, a resolution of distributed storage and tamper-resistant code.

This is a joke, right?

The Chinese government are pretty much the antithesis to decentralized principles, which is why it’s so unsettling that they’re adopting blockchain with such speed. Since President Xi Jinping’s speech on 25 October, the push for blockchain has been constant and incredibly swift. 

What’s utterly terrifying, is that China is starting to look more and more like a country out of a dystopian nightmare. This latest development will have massive implications on the social credit system, with it becoming easier to identify transgressors and shame and punish them on an even wider scale than before. 

In a nation that doesn’t exactly foster ideas of freedom and decentralization, how exactly will a blockchain-based system of this nature work? Will it be another imposition on the freedom of the Chinese people? 

While we laud the Chinese government for its (unexpectedly) forward-thinking ideas about utilizing blockchain, let us not forget the people it will actually affect. In a country with as bad a human rights track record as China, how do we think this is going to end? 

It’s typical of the Chinese government to take these tools and use them to continue to enforce state censorship, and other violations of its citizens’ rights. This is in direct contradiction to the principles of blockchain and decentralization – and that’s a truly uncomfortable thought. 

The future

While China unveils 100 blockchain based smart cities by 2020, we need to think about how they’re planning to use this technology going forward. The idea of interconnected smart cities sounds pretty great, but if they’re going to be used as a way to infringe on citizens’ rights then clearly this technology has fallen into the wrong hands. 

Moving forward 

As China unveils blockchain based smart cities, it’s impossible not to think about the implications this initiative will have on the social credit system, and thereby the lives of Chinese citizens. Blockchain is based on principles of decentralization and freedom, something which China seems to be desperately lacking. 

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