Billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros warned that the machine learning and artificial intelligence used in creating China's Social Credit System is creating "an unprecedented danger that is threatening the very survival of open societies."
Soros, the founder of the Open Society Foundations, defines an open society as "a society in which the rule of law prevails as opposed to the rule by a single individual and where the role of the state is to protect human rights and individual freedom. "
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday, Soros said open societies face a "mortal danger" from "the instruments of control" in the form of machine learning and artificial intelligence in the hands of “repressive regimes.”
With the creation of the Social Credit System in China, information about a person is being consolidated into a central database. With that data, people will be evaluated by algorithms that "will determine whether they pose a threat to the one-party state.”
"People will then be treated accordingly," he said.
"The Social Credit System is not yet fully operational, but it’s clear where it’s heading. It will subordinate the fate of the individual to the interests of the one-party state in ways unprecedented in history.”
Soros called the Social Credit System "frightening" and "abhorrent."
"Unfortunately, some Chinese find it rather attractive because it provides information and services that aren’t currently available and can also protect law-abiding citizens against enemies of the state.”
He pointed out that China is not the only authoritarian regime in the world, but he noted that it's the most developed in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
"This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of those who believe in the concept of open society," Soros said.
While his speech concentrated mostly on China, Soros noted that open societies have “many more enemies,” most notably Putin’s Russia.
He said the “most dangerous scenario” is if “these enemies conspire with, and learn from, each other on how to better oppress their people.”
“The question poses itself: What can you do to stop them? The first step is to recognize the danger. That’s why I’m speaking out tonight.”
Soros said China’s Xi has “declared his hostility to open society,” but the Chinese people remain the "main source of hope” for open society.
“Effective policy toward China can't be reduced to a slogan”
Later on, Soros said President Donald Trump is "notoriously unpredictable," but noted that his administration's China policy is the "result of a carefully prepared plan" from officials like Matt Pottinger, the White House National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs, and outlined in a "seminal speech" by Vice President Mike Pence.
Even so, declaring China a strategic rival is too simplistic, according to Soros. He noted that China is an important global actor. An effective policy towards China can’t be reduced to a slogan, he said.
He said Trump “seems to be following a different course” of making concessions to China and renewing attacks on U.S. allies, all of which undermines U.S. policy of “curbing China’s abuses and excesses.”
“To conclude, let me summarize the message I’m delivering tonight. My key point is that the combination of repressive regimes with IT monopolies endows those regimes with a built-in advantage over open societies. The instruments of control are useful tools in the hands of authoritarian regimes, but they pose a mortal threat to open societies.”
He continued: “China is not the only authoritarian regime in the world but it is the wealthiest, strongest, and technologically most advanced. This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of open societies. That’s why it’s so important to distinguish Xi Jinping’s policies from the aspirations of the Chinese people. The social credit system, if it became operational, would give Xi total control over the people. Since Xi is the most dangerous enemy of the open society, we must pin our hopes on the Chinese people, and especially on the business community and a political elite willing to uphold the Confucian tradition.”
At last year’s World Economic Forum, the 88-year-old billionaire made headlines for slamming Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOGL), claiming that “the rise and monopolistic behavior” of tech platform companies has become a “global problem.”
At the time, he accused the tech giants of “exploiting” social environments and causing “a variety of problems,” and even suggested that the companies could be tempted to “compromise themselves” to gain access to markets such as Russia and China.
Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.
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