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Science  16 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6381, pp. 1206-1209
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6381.1206

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Summary

Qian Xuesen is revered in China for having spearheaded the rapid ascent of China's nuclear weapons program. But his legacy is still unfolding in a second area that could have great consequences for the country—and for the world. Qian, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 97, helped lay the groundwork for China's modern surveillance state. Early in his career, he embraced systems engineering, an interdisciplinary field focused on understanding the general properties common to all physical and societal systems, including weapons systems—and using that knowledge to control specific systems. Systems engineers have had a hand in projects as diverse as hydropower dam construction and China's social credit system, a vast effort aimed at using big data to track citizens' behavior. By applying systems engineering to challenges such as maintaining social stability, the Chinese government, as one scholar says, aims to "not just understand reality or predict reality, but to control reality."