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China’s AI facial recognition system is more advanced than we thought


China continues to take big steps in its journey towards a future of AI… The big news over the weekend was what we saw appear on television screens over at the Middle Kingdom. Millions of Chinese citizens turned on their screens to find live images of an unfamiliar man ready to present the news for the day. What they didn’t know was that this man would symbolize a feat that was achieved for the first time in history, except it wasn’t a human man at all. China’s state news agency, New China, unveiled the world’s first AI news anchor. The virtual anchor learns to watch video clips of live broadcasts and, according to the news agency, reads texts as natural as a human news reader. But while the world was fixated on these impressive images, another story seemed to slip through the cracks. Namely, significant improvements in China’s AI facial recognition system that has been deemed “dystopian” by some and “ground-breaking” by others. The Chinese government has been an enthusiastic financier when it comes to AI and has been a strong supporter of contemporary tech trends that are taking the world by storm but when do we reach the limit of what breaches our privacy in ways that wouldn’t have been imaginable a decade ago? Are rapid developments in technology reaching Orwellian levels?

China’s Social Credit System

Imagine this. Imagine if everything you did was traced digitally and your behavior and actions were scored according a number of different criteria determined by a state entity. Imagine such a rating where this state gives you a higher score according to actions that they like – and a negative score when you did something undesirable. And that these points could determine your future, in terms of your career, the ability to get a home loan or to book a train ticket to some cities. The so-called “Social Credit System” has already been introduced as a pilot project in several major cities in China. The Chinese government has announced that the system should be used for the country’s 1.4 billion citizens by 2020. Monitoring should be based on a combination of artificial intelligence and large amounts of biometric data collected by Chinese authorities like through health surveys. According to some, this is what is not what might happen on a wider scale, this is what will happen in the People’s Republic of China. This might sound like old news to some, but the news that slipped through the cracks this weekend was China’s further progression in their ability to identify people from a face in a crowd by its CCTV cameras. You might think that this has already been possible for a while, and you’re right. But now.. they don’t even need your face.

Chinese authorities have begun to use a new monitoring tool that with great accuracy can identify people on their body shape and walking style as reported by AP. The system has already been deployed on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, and is able to identify a person up to 50 meters away. An analysis of the style of walking can not be deceived by just stopping, blocking feet, or kidding, because we analyze the entire body and according to Huang Youngzhen, chief of Watrix, the company developing the system, people do not have to be part of their own database or cooperate with them for them to be identifiable. He claims that the accuracy of the software currently stands at 94 percent. It’s still not as good as face recognition, but it is estimated that it’s good enough to commercialize the product.

Watrix AI software takes a silhouette of the person in the picture and uses it to create a model over the person’s walking style. Images from ordinary surveillance cameras are good enough to run the analysis, but so far, technology does not work in real time. Movie sequences must be analyzed by a computer program that can currently go through an hour’s watch movie in about ten minutes. The idea is that technology should be used as a complement when it is not possible to get a clear image of a person’s face. The reason is that it is a heavy technology compared with other biometric identification methods. Looking at someone’s face is enough with one single shot to allow the algorithms to identify the person. To analyze the walking style, the algorithms must review an entire video sequence.

Watrix was founded in 2016 and has already received the equivalent of around SEK 130 million in capital to develop the technology, but they are not alone in investing in it. Researchers in Japan, Great Britain and the United States have been working on technology to analyze walking style for more than ten years. The Japanese police already launched a pilot program for identifying people in walking style in 2013.

In combination with China’s steps in AI being much further than we thought, this will be interesting to look out for especially since the Credit Score System has brought with it a fair share of fearful critics. But really, what if this system is used hand-in-hand with the Social Credit Score system? Will anyone be able to slip through the government’s grasp?

Evolvera – always changing, always evolving. 

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