As we pointed out earlier this week, China's lack of data protection laws and its determination to overtake the US as the world-leader in AI technology poses a serious threat to US technological hegemony. As Russian President Vladimir Putin once said, whoever dominates the AI race could one day rule the world.
Well, another advantage that China has in its AI push is its reputation for strict surveillance and law enforcement - which provides for plenty of use-cases where China can test its nascent technology. Case in point: Police in Shenzen are using AI and facial recognition software to install "smart" traffic cameras that can identify and fine Chinese citizens who jaywalk - a crime that is the subject of strict enforcement in China, per the South China Morning Post.
Intellifusion, a Shenzhen-based AI firm that provides the technology is now in talks with local mobile phone carriers and social media platforms such as WeChat and Sina Weibo to develop a system where offenders will receive personal text messages shortly after a violation has occurred, according to Wang Jun, the company’s director of marketing solutions.
"Jaywalking has always been an issue in China and can hardly be resolved just by imposing fines or taking photos of the offenders. But a combination of technology and psychology … can greatly reduce instances of jaywalking and will prevent repeat offences," Wang said.
Shenzhen traffic police began displaying photos of jaywalkers on large LED screens at major intersections starting in April 2017. Meanwhile, police stationed at the Zhengzhou East high-speed rail station in Henan province have been equipped with smart glasses with facial recognition software that can identify wanted criminals.
For the current system installed in Shenzhen, Intellifusion installed cameras with 7 million pixels of resolution to capture photos of pedestrians crossing the road against traffic lights. Facial recognition technology identifies the individual from a database and displays a photo of the jaywalking offence, the family name of the offender and part of their government identification number on large LED screens above the pavement.
Nearly 14,000 jaywalkers have been cited since Of course, Shenzen isn't even the most advanced Chinese city in terms of its use of AI for law-enforcement purposes. In Beijing, police are using the world's first surround-body camera with built in facial recognition technology to hold scofflaws accountable.
In what appears to be an effort to shame lawbreakers, police launched a webpage in March displaying photos, names and partial ID numbers of jaywalkers.
Police say these measures have reduced the number of repeat offenders. Informing violators via text message would help the city save on construction of large LED screens, which have been used elsewhere in China for shaming purposes.
However, there's one notable caveat. Shenzhen has one of the most transient populations in China. As a result, many people do not have their information registered in the database of the traffic police, even though anyone staying in the city for more than 30 days is required to do so. That means authorities can only currently identify about 10% of the population.
Ultimately, these surveillance methods will be used to build out China's system of "social credit" - the Communist Party's plan to assign a "score" to every Chinese citizen - as authorities aim for "behavior modification on a massive scale."
For the average Chinese citizen, this system closely resembles the nightmarish totalitarian dystopia described by George Orwell in his classic novel "1984".
When a woman walked to work this month in the bustling Southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen, she, like many millions of other Chinese, jaywalked, cutting across a side street to avoid a detour of hundreds of yards to a crosswalk. What happened next, as documented by the woman, a writer calling herself Mao Yan, was an illustration of a brave new world being born in China.
Two traffic policemen approached the woman and told her that she had violated the traffic regulations of the People’s Republic of China. Eager to get to her job, Mao Yan apologized and pointed out that there was no fencing to block jaywalkers like her. She hoped to get off with a verbal warning. The officers, however, were intent on prosecution. They demanded her identity card, which is issued to all Chinese citizens. When Mao Yan said that she had not brought hers, they asked for her ID number. When she said she had not memorized it, one officer snapped her picture with a camera phone. Seconds later he read out her name, her ID card number and date of birth. Using facial recognition technology, he had identified Mao Yan.
Yan said she was taken aback by the experience. Later, WaPo noted that these surveillance technologies are being used in Western provinces to crack down on separatist movements.
"It's intimidation to make everyone afraid," she said in a social media post she published after her encounter.
The post was swiftly taken down by China's censors.