Thursday, October 05, 2017

《不能让算法决定内容》"Do Not Rely on Algorithm to Decide": The Transformation of Power Relationships in the Wake of Social Credit and Big Data Management Governance

In the run up to the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress one expects a certain quickening of the pace of political discussion as decisions become necessary around sometimes contentious choices for moving the nation forward.  While most of these discussions occurs within the CCP itself, some sometimes leak out to the public--in what might be assumed to be carefully measured disclosures in state sanctioned media. 

More specifically what appears to be an unusual opinion essay found its way onto the pages of China's People's Daily.  That essay 《不能让算法决定内容》"Do Not Rely on Algorithm to Decide" suggests that there are some qualms about the scope and application of the "big data management" initiatives and its related social credit architecture that appears to be the vanguard forces of a transformation of the governing apparatus of state and party. The qualms come form both the Chinese left and right.  In both cases the qualms potentially reveal the weaknesses of current approaches to analysis and critique of emerging governance structures represented by big data management initiatives and their social credit programs.

Flora Sapio and I have written short reflections on this article. The article raises fundamental issues of law, governance and culture at time of great transformation of the modalities through which these great institutions of human societal organization are undergoing change.

Flora Sapio's Reflections may be accessed HERE.
This post also includes the text of the  article 《不能让算法决定内容》"Do Not Rely on Algorithm to Decide" (只有中国语文). ENGLISH TRANSLATION at China Social Credit System Blog, with thanks to Flora Sapio: HERE.

This post includes my brief comments (ENGLISH ONLY) on the potential errors that the article highlights, and the  article  (只有中国语文). ENGLISH TRANSLATION at China Social Credit System Blog, with thanks to Flora Sapio: HERE.

Index of Social Credit Posts.

For the Chinese left, the substitution of algorithm and what is euphemistically labelled "AI" programs represents a sharp transfer of discretionary authority from the CCP and its leading cadres, int he first instance, to the people now charged with determining the scope of data harvesting and the construction of the algorithms through which determinations will be made and "discretion" exercised.  Big data management initiatives and their social credit governance structures, then, represent a potential full frontal assault on the primacy of politics and the political role of the CCP in its leadership of the masses through the state apparatus. Related to this is the fear that not only would the language of politics lose its privilege but that effective power would shift from the CCP to the private sector technicians with the expertise to build and operate these systems ("先进技术应该带来阿里巴巴的宝藏,而不是潘多拉的盒子。").  

For the Chinese right an equally important but inverse threat is posed by big data management initiatives and their related social credit governance structures.  For them the danger comes from detaching data harvesting and algorithm management from the cage of law and the constraints of the law system built from out of the CCP Basic Line and memorialized in the State Constitution.  Like the Chinese left, the result for the Chinese right may be functionally the same--that big data management and social credit structures  represent a full frontal assault on the post 1978 socialist rule of law construction project, and of building a cage of regulation around discretion, under the leadership of the CCP.  Related to this is the fear that not only would the effective language of power shift from law but that effective power would again be buried in technical apparatus outside the reach of rule of law architectures or systems of accountability. 

Yet the problem with both approaches is that they are subject to the error of ancient conceptualizations of power and their relationship to the management of social forces. The "Left error" is founded on a misconception of leadership and supervision.  If the CCP sets the goals and produces the means of assessment, then the forms through which the Basic Line objectives are realized make no difference.  In this case there is no active shift in power in relation to the role of the CCP:  There is, on the other hand, a shift in responsibility among the structures of CCP leadership.  The Left error, then, is to personalize power within specific organs of CCP organization and in the hands of certain CCP leaders.  That has been a core error since 1978.  But the greater error is the exposure of the difficulty of this position to overcome the error of bureaucratism--condemned by the CCP Basic Line (Indeed the CCP Constitution obliges Party cadres to "combat bureaucratism, and fight against malpractices such as abuse of power for personal gain" (CCP Constitution (art. 34(5))). The CCP loses none of its leadership role where its guidance is operationalized throughout emerging social and economic structures.  That this requires changing with the times merely indicates that administrative patterns must change not that the core leadership role is being challenged. Recalling Deng Xiaoping's warning, "This kind of bureaucratism often masquerades as ``Party leadership'', ``Party directives'', ``Party interests'' and ``Party discipline'', but actually it is designed to control people, hold them in check and oppress them. At that time many important issues were often decided by one or two persons." (Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth From Facts, and United as One in Looking to the Future (December 13, 1978)).

The "Right error" is based on ancient conceptions of the necessary relationship between law (traditionally understood as constitution, statute and regulation) and the modalities of real time implementation of rules, laws, directives and constitutional objectives.  There is no natural necessary direct connection between constitution-law-regulation and its object.  In classical terms--the administrative apparatus of the state always served as an intermediary, one to which the strictures of the cage of regulation was also focused.  Under big data management initiative systems and their related social credit projects, two things change.  First the administrative apparatus shifts from functionaries in ministries and the police apparatus to the technical apparatus of data harvesters and algorithms administrator.  Yet these are as subject to regulatory oversight as any functionary. Second, the operation of administrative organs change from direct supervision to indirect oversight over the proper operation of systems.  In either case, however, the system can be only as good as the values and rules built into its operation.  That the system is different in construction and operation does not, consequently remove it from the structures of Chines enorms and values, nor does it make the system imperious to the cage of regulation. 

In both cases applying the leadership line of the CCP ("persevering in emancipating the mind, seeking truth from facts and keeping pace with the times." (CCP Constitution General Program)) would lead to clear analysis and to a better approach to decisions about these tools and methods that, whatever the fear, are here to stay. Both left and right criticism is valuable to the proper development of big data management initiative and the construction of well ordered social credit systems. Yet fear of the new and the unknown is hardly a legitimate basis for opposition. Just as the automobile, the train and the airplane changed the ways in which society related to its own internal operaiton and caused great shifts in the focus and structures of law (as well as in the shifting of authority within governing institutions), so biog data management initiatives and social credit structures will reshape the administrative, legal and political landscape--but it will only change its normnative structres if leaders are unwilling or iunable to meet the challenges that systms more compatible with the operation of society in this new stage in its development require. r

The article follows (只有中国语文)

宣 言
《 人民日报 》( 2017年10月05日 04 版)

  随着大数据、人工智能的广泛应用,一些商业网站、移动新闻客户端,包括直播平台、浏览器、搜索引擎、影音软件等,都在 运用算法这个“读心术”,为用户量身打造信息,创造出一种新的个性化阅读体验,信息获取已经从“大海捞针”进入“私人定制”模式。然而,技术往往是一把冷 冰冰的双刃剑,在价值和利益的天平上,所谓的算法成为了利益的砝码,一切围着流量转,唯点击量、转发量马首是瞻,“标题党”泛滥,价值取向跑偏,内容沦为 附庸。

  在“网红爆款”刷屏的网络世界,人的注意力是最稀缺资源,“10万+”的阅读、百亿量的点播成为竞相追逐的“眼球经济”。一些平 台打着定制服务、精准推送的幌子,让算法变成了打擦边球的工具。侵权盗用原创作品、违规制作生产信息,更是屡见不鲜。无论是有心搜索一个词条,还是无意点 开一个链接,千篇一律的同质化信息,信口雌黄的歪理邪说,形形色色的商业广告,还有那些活色生香、花边八卦、流言蜚语,以各种争奇斗艳的形式粉墨登场,一 股脑、无休止地推送过来,让广大受众被迫地接受。就好像捅了马蜂窝一样瞬间扑面而来,让人们在算法的“牢笼”里被蜇得“遍体鳞伤”。

  先 进技术原本应该带来的是阿里巴巴的宝库,而不是潘多拉的魔盒。就如同金融要回归服务实体经济是一个道理,算法也是时候回归服务内容这个本源了,而不能本末 倒置,让内容被算法牵着鼻子走。技术再怎么变,传播渠道再怎么变,内容为王的地位没有变也不会变。离开权威客观公正的新闻报道、离开积极健康向上的信息内 容,再强大的算法也是无源之水、无本之木。一些新媒体平台口口声声称自己只是“新闻的搬运工”,可“搬运”的结果就是,大量来路不明、藏污纳垢的信息横行 在网络空间。“搬运”什么要讲规矩讲责任,决不可任性而为之,更不能用满足用户阅读需求而自动分发的借口去搪塞。

  行生于己,名生于人。 算法隐藏着设计者的立场,有的新媒体平台频繁地调整改变算法,这是技术的创新吗?当然不是,无外乎是利用算法实现最大推送量,获得最高点击率,说到底是在 追求利益的最大化。互联网企业不是“舆论飞地”,同样要坚持社会效益和经济效益相统一,担负起与媒体角色相对应的社会责任,饮水思源,回报社会,造福人 民。内容推送少不了“总编辑”,算法再精良也要装上“安全阀”,加强内容把关,不能各唱各的调、各吹各的号。要提高平台使用透明度,畅通用户的设置渠道, 将信息的选择权还给用户,不能让“劣币”驱逐“良币”。要坚持正确舆论导向,强化价值引领,以“人工推荐+智能筛选”相结合优化推送方式,大力传播和弘扬 主流价值,不能让“有意思”代替了“有意义”。


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