12 September 2018

Facial recognition technology reconsidered

Its capabilities go way past catching terrorists.
Dystopia starts with 23.6 inches of toilet paper. That’s how much the dispensers at the entrance of the public restrooms at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven dole out in a program involving facial-recognition scanners—part of the president’s “Toilet Revolution,” which seeks to modernize public toilets. Want more? Forget it. If you go back to the scanner before nine minutes are up, it will recognize you and issue this terse refusal: “Please try again later.”

China is rife with face-scanning technology... When a camera mounted above one of 50 of the city’s busiest intersections detects a jaywalker, it snaps several photos and records a video of the violation. The photos appear on an overhead screen so the offender can see that he or she has been busted, then are cross-checked with the images in a regional police database. Within 20 minutes, snippets of the perp’s ID number and home address are displayed on the crosswalk screen... The system seems to be working: Since last May, the number of jaywalking violations at one of Jinan’s major intersections has plummeted from 200 a day to 20...

... in Beijing, customers stand in front of a screen, have their face scanned, and receive menu suggestions based on their age, sex, and facial expression...

The technology’s veneer of convenience conceals a dark truth: Quietly and very rapidly, facial recognition has enabled China to become the world’s most advanced surveillance state. A hugely ambitious new government program called the “social credit system” aims to compile unprecedented data sets, including everything from bank-account numbers to court records to internet-search histories, for all Chinese citizens. Based on this information, each person could be assigned a numerical score, to which points might be added for good behavior like winning a community award, and deducted for bad actions like failure to pay a traffic fine. The goal of the program, as stated in government documents, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”..

People in China don’t know 99.99 percent of what’s going on in terms of state surveillance,” she says. “Most people think they can say what they want and live freely without being monitored, but that’s largely an illusion.”
More at The Atlantic.


  1. It's pretty darn scary. Here (starting at around 8:30) is some more on the topic, as well as the associated "Social Credit System" they plan to introduce: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPd8jEujXpw#t=8m30s (you can turn on English subtitles).

  2. Wasn't this the plot of one Black Mirror episode?

  3. Yes. Episode “Nosedive”.

  4. “Most people think they can say what they want and live freely without being monitored, but that’s largely an illusion“

    I think this is crucial for the people not to collapse in depression or revolt. Must probably entail effective and secret agency to take care of deviants.

    Endlessly chilling...


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