Artificial intelligence (AI) technology that detects "undesirable" behavior and recognizes faces from afar is in the spotlight Thursday at the Security China exhibition, attended by hundreds of companies, many of which are in the crosshairs of the United States. The three-day event, attended by employees of China's security industry and a few foreign clients, including from Russia and the Middle East, is shaping the technological future of surveillance. It is supported by the Chinese authorities.
AI software company SenseTime has introduced cameras that can detect certain "undesirable" behaviors, such as smoking, fighting, or not wearing a mask. Other cameras designed to be installed at doors and checkpoints are able to identify identity theft attempts to open the door, for example by showing a photo or wearing a mask resembling another person's. In a demonstration, the camera managed to detect that a mannequin, which looked like two drops of water to a human, was not one.
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These monitoring systems can also be programmed to report fires and alert emergency services. The company SenseTime was placed on the trade blacklist by the United States in 2019. Washington accuses it of being part of China's "military-industrial complex" over its use of its technology for mass surveillance in the western region of Xinjiang. An estimated one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained in the region since 2017 as part of a government campaign that Washington and rights groups have called genocide.
The technology of another company, Zohetec, is strong in recognizing faces from 150 meters away. Representatives of Tiandy, a Chinese company also accused of being linked to the crackdown in Xinjiang, showed AFP some of its products for a "smart city", such as cameras that can identify cars at great distances and even at night, from the license plate to the driver's face. The system is already being used to monitor road traffic in Beijing and Tientsin, according to the company.
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Tiandy can also identify pedestrians crossing the street unduly, and display their faces on a screen to "embarrass" them and deter them from doing it again. China is one of the most monitored societies in the world, with countless closed-circuit television cameras scattered around cities and facial recognition technology widely used in daily law enforcement and political repression.