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Should governments reward people for doing the right thing?

19 future thinking provocations: 5 ex 19

Should governments reward people for doing the right thing?

Governments certainly punish people for doing the wrong thing: speeding in a car, littering, stealing etc. and now impose fines for breaking COVID regulations. Are you tired of so mush stick. How about some carrot, right?

Sounds reasonable, yes? But be careful for what you wish for.

It is the job of the futurist, particularly the future fiction writer, to ponder the possible future implications of seemingly sensible current decisions.

In my future fiction novel, Blinky's Law, I have imagined how a Personal Data Score might work out. A system that rewards good behaviour by citizens and punishes bad behaviour. But you don't have to look just to science fiction to learn about such systems.

In China, the government has sanctioned a number of social credit score schemes to ‘allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven, while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.’ A citizen’s credit score can determine if she or he can rent vehicles without a deposit, travel on high-speed railways, book hotel rooms and even skip hospital waiting lines. Scores can be positively impacted by good citizenly behaviour such as loyal buying patterns and giving blood and can be negatively impacted by ‘anti-social behaviour’ such as parking outside a designated parking bay, quarrelling with a neighbour or worse, ‘spreading rumours’. If your social credit score is low you will be blacklisted. If you phone a blacklisted person you will hear a siren and recorded message that says: ‘Warning, this person is on the blacklist. Be careful and urge them to repay their debts.’ When a blacklisted person passes certain busy areas in Beijing, facial-recognition technology projects their face and ID number on huge electronic billboards. This is social engineering not by Big Brother but by Big Data. This sort of reputation system is likely to become more widespread and more comprehensive in the future. And what’s not to like about it? As the Chinese government says: "keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful."

So be careful what you wish for.

And it's not just governments, but companies that should invest the time and money in imagining the future - beyond immediate profits. Not something companies are generally good at. Why did Standard Oil, General Motors and the DuPont Corporation think it was a good idea to add tetraethyl lead to petrol? Why did Kodak not do more with the first digital camera it invented in the 1970s? Why did Blockbuster turn down the opportunity to buy Netflix? They didn't have an imaginative enough vision of the future.

In particular with the rise of surveillance capitalism we should all be using creativity to imagine what the implications of its many applications could be. Maybe we can do this through novels like Blinky's Law or maybe through Design Fiction or scenario planning. But however we do it, we should engage our creative imaginations to visualise the future. Creative imagination is beyond current artificial intelligence systems and if we want to keep ahead of the robots, we should use this human ability.

If you would like some future thinking in your life, business or government, then please contact:

Martin Talks


Author of the future fiction novel, Blinky's Law.