In 2040, authorities in China began the largest centralized collection of data in the history of humanity.
The ambitious project, called "Total Quantified Society", is aimed at nothing less than a complete pacification of the “four evils”: crime, disease, ignorance, and poverty.
To fight crime, every person living in China is required to submit detailed biometric data. This includes a blood sample for genetic sequencing, an ultra-high resolution 3D scan of the head, a three-minute speech sample, a three-minute video of one typing on a phone and a keyboard, a 500-word handwriting sample on a political topic, a 3D recording of one walking, running, climbing stairs, and performing a series of simple tasks with their hands.
Additionally, fingerprints, footprints, and high-resolution pictures of one’s arms, hands, feet, teeth, and any distinguishing marks are taken.
Criminals currently serving prison sentences and those with past criminal convictions are subjected to further studies. These include microbiome samples, bone biopsy to track past environmental exposures, detailed biographical data surveys, psychological questionnaires, and interviews with friends, relatives, and teachers.
To fight disease, randomly selected families, comprising five percent of China's population and representing a broad cross-section of the Chinese society, will be required to submit biological samples every two weeks. Drafted families will be required to submit blood, saliva, hair, skin, stool, urine, and microbiome samples. Additionally, environmental samples are collected from the family’s home and workplace. After analysis, samples are kept frozen in a vast decentralized network of underground vaults, so researchers can access the samples in the future.
Two percent of the drafted families are required to participate in further, more time-consuming and intrusive studies every four months. These include psychological questionnaires, life satisfaction and sociological questionnaires, cognitive tests, physical condition tests, and medical imaging. They must also wear smart watches designed to monitor movement, sleep patterns, the frequency of social interactions, body temperature, and heart rate.
To fight ignorance, randomly selected newborns, comprising 0.1 % of all Chinese births, will participate in the children's development census. The newborns will be given toys fitted with cameras and microphones; the devices will monitor and record the child from the moment they were born until they reach puberty: every sight, sound, social interaction, along with the child's eye movement and reaction, will be recorded and tagged (first by humans, then by AI). The aim is to understand how early childhood environment correlates with future life and education outcomes. The data from the children’s development census is also fed to a neural network to see if it is possible to teach a neural net to understand the world as a human child does.
Finally, to fight poverty, physical cash is abolished and everyone in China is required to use e-payments. Every transaction is recorded in a non-anonymized central database. Every week, a free government-run accounting software tool will give everyone an overview of their weekly spending, their assets, savings and accrued liabilities and offer warnings and suggestions, should one spend money in a manner the government deems “unwise”.
All goods sold in China over the price of 50 yuan are embedded with a small RFID chip allowing the government to quickly audit a person’s material possessions and track the life cycle of every item sold. Key locations such as apartment entrances, post offices, and trash containers, are fitted with RFID scanners allowing the government to track the flow of individual goods through its life cycle.
By law, every business must prominently display the real-life usage statistics of the item they intend to sell. Companies that make especially durable and useful goods are rewarded with tax breaks, whereas companies making goods that quickly end up in the trash receive a tax penalty.
This program, which opponents decry as a gross violation of privacy and human rights, nonetheless receives broad support from the Chinese public. Several factors contribute to the support: the devastation caused by COVID-19 a decade ago was still fresh in people's minds; an aging population, plunging birth rates and panic over fertility created a newfound focus on health; a rising middle class increasingly fearful of crime, and a nationalist belief that China's big data-driven society will offer China a permanent competitive advantage over the more privacy-oriented West.