The future is officially here. We’ve known it’s been coming for a while, but Chinese companies which develop facial recognition technology are the heralds of its arrival.
These companies are developing new systems which analyze various personal traits such as hair color, skin tone, and the dimensions of facial features to identify individuals. So far, we’ve seen this sort of tech be used for identification in a variety of settings, including, but not limited to: unmanned convenience stores, fast food restaurants, ATMs and airport security.
But, despite the fact that facial recognition technology appears to be invading all aspects of the urban lifestyle, the largest consumer, and the customer with the deepest pockets, is the Chinese government. China is often competing neck-and-neck with Western companies to produce the most advanced products possible. But in this case, the Chinese tech industry has a leg up.
For one thing, these systems get smarter when given more and more data. And China’s photo ID database and its plethora of public surveillance cameras are the perfect suppliers of billions of faces and objects to be analyzed. Additionally, there are currently very few regulations when it comes to privacy law for tech developers. According to Forbes, the terms and conditions contracts of many Chinese apps allow the creators to sell users’ photographs to further develop facial recognition software.
Considering these factors, Wang Shengjin, a professor at Tsinghua University’s Department of Electronic Engineering explains that while China’s primary competitors are other Western tech companies,”we are far ahead when it comes to deploying [facial recognition tech] commercially,” he told Forbes.
Due to the fact that Beijing is willing to pay just about anything to ensure national security, quite a few companies are finding the growing industry increasingly profitable. For example, a Beijing start-up, SenseTime Co., recently was valued at $1.5 billion because of its innovation in the realm of facial recognition technology. SenseTime, which was founded in 2014 and has just 500 employees, sells its tech to the police to be used in advanced surveillance systems.
Xjera Labs, a Singaporean company which works out of both Shenzhen and Shanghai, also has developed a surveillance system which can, with 97% accuracy, identify not just individuals, but also cars and other objects. Arguably the creepiest part about this company’s tech is that it also allows authorities to search for and identify certain actions, such as climbing over fences, or fighting, based on CCTV footage.
Most ominously, facial recognition company Cloud Walk is developing an AI that will be able to predict the chance of a crime occurring, allowing police to prevent it from happening in an idea taken straight out of Minority Report. The Financial Times explains the details below:
Governments around the world are understandably excited about the possibility of identifying criminals and terrorists. The newest systems are so advanced that they can identify individuals with data from decades old photographs. But this sort of futuristic observation has some ominous undertones.
The consequences of this new technology for the average, law-abiding citizen isn’t necessarily being considered by said average, law-abiding citizen. While yes, it is nice that KFC can tell you what you want to eat on any given day, what happens when the same tech is being used to shame people into civil obedience? Take the city of Jinan, where pictures of jaywalkers, along with their personal information, are being broadcasted in an attempt to shame them into obeying traffic laws.
Such public humiliation may seem innocent enough to begin with, but the lack of protection afforded to the individual is shocking. The future is just now becoming a reality, but we are not yet sure whether it will be a utopia or a dystopia.
By Emma Abrams
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