Jaywalkers in the Chinese city of Shenzhen are being busted by a high-tech computer system that integrates cameras and facial recognition software to identify the scofflaws. After that comes the public naming and shaming, plus an on-the-spot fine.
Since April 2017, street crossings in southeastern Shenzhen have been rigged with cameras and billboard-sized screens. The cameras scan the face of anyone who crosses the street against the light. Then, the miscreant’s face and name are displayed for all the passers-by to see.
The Chinese are big on public shaming as a social control tactic. In their culture, losing face is a very bad thing indeed, and to be avoided at all cost.
The artificial intelligence (AI) company that supplies Shenzhen with the large LED screens is called Intellifusion. Wang Jun, the company’s director of marketing solutions, indicated that his firm is negotiating 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 as soon as they violate the rules.”
“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 offenses.”
According to Wang, public naming and shaming coupled with instant fines have worked: the number of repeat offenders has gone ‘way down.
The exact time, location, and blurred photos of the jaywalkers are then posted online, along with their surnames and partial ID numbers. One busy intersection in the Futian district of Shenzhen logged and projected onto the big screens the images of almost 14,000 jaywalkers in the 10 months before February 2018.
The next month, the traffic cops launched a web page which also publishes offenders’ information to further shame and defame them.
In case you missed the memo, China is quickly becoming the world’s leading surveillance state, surpassing Britain and perhaps even the United States. The Communist nation teams with people: 1.3 billion of them.
The Chinese government is working hard and spending big money to build a vast intelligence-gathering network to keep tabs on all those taxpayers and the criminal element, too. Across the land, 170 million CCTV (closed-circuit televisions) cameras film everything within lens range.
Over the next three years, 400 million additional spy cams will roll out to broaden the government’s view of what is going on in the streets and squares of their cities.
Beijing and Shanghai use AI with facial recognition technology to monitor traffic and finger drivers who break laws. Railway police in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province in central China, were the first to test facial recognition sunglasses (“spy glasses”) to help catch criminals getting on and off the trains.
Not only do the CCTV cameras in China observe everyone’s comings and goings 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but the vast majority of them are equipped with facial recognition systems. Highly sophisticated AI know-how is required to match a real-time image of a subject’s facial structure with a stored image of the same person’s face, collected when government ID cards are issued, or other services are required.
A facial recognition system has several components. The camera has built-in software that can map a person’s face by plotting points on the ears, eyes, nose, chin, cheekbones, and forehead to generate connecting angles.
Then, the real-time facial data is compared by the AI system to a huge collection (database) of stored identification images.
Every resident in the Chinese city of Guiyang is included in the municipal computerized identification and location system. The cameras in their surveillance network are specialized to do different things: some read faces while others estimate gender, age, and ethnicity.
One factory in Hangzhou has churned out one million facial recognition cameras and sold them in China. “We can match every face with an ID card,” said Yin Jun for Dahua Technology. “and trace all your movements back one week in time.”
But that’s not all. “We can match your face with your car, match you with your relatives and the people you’re in touch with. With enough cameras, we can know who you meet frequently.”
Once the system recognizes a suspect’s face, it signals the control room to raise the alarm.
When John Sudworth, correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), tested the Chinese facial recognition tracking system in the city of Guiyang, it only took 7 minutes to match Sudworth’s real-time image to the city’s database picture and find him via CCTV camera inside the bus station.
Xu Yan, a policewoman in Guiyang, explained that China’s citizen spy network will only be used for good:
“For ordinary people, we will only extract their data when they need our help. When they don’t need our help, we won’t gather their data and it remains only in our big database. We only use it when needed.” [emphasis added]
But social dissidents, critics, and artists are fearful that Big Brother’s AI eyes will be used to persecute them. Ji Feng is a poet who disagrees with his nation’s policies and government. He believes that authorities regard the artists’ neighborhood where he lives as a threat to national security.
“You can feel the eyes on you every day,” Ji said, “invisible eyes following you so that no matter what you do, you always hesitate. High-tech cameras will make security maintenance easier for police. And if the police mindset doesn’t change, the surveillance on dissidents may intensify.”
Even Dahua Technology spokesman Daniel Chau confided that “There is a certain level of discomfort.” This ill ease comes from the fact that most tools can be turned against humans, into instruments of violence and suppression – weapons.
All eyes are on China now, to see what will happen next in this totalitarian regime that has no independent courts and very few personal privacy laws.