China’s artificial intelligence is catching criminals and advancing health care

Zhu Long, co-founder and CEO of Yitu Technology, has his identity checked at the company’s headquarters in the Hongqiao business district in Shanghai. Picture: Zigor Aldama

“Our machines can very easily recognise you among at least 2 billion people in a matter of seconds,” says chief executive and Yitu co-founder Zhu Long, “which would have been unbelievable just three years ago.”

Its platform is also in service with more than 20 provincial public security departments, and is used as part of more than 150 municipal public security systems across the country, and Dragonfly Eye has already proved its worth.

On its very first day of operation on the Shanghai Metro, in January, the system identified a wanted man when he entered a station. After matching his face against the database, Dragonfly Eye sent his photo to a policeman, who made an arrest.

In the following three months, 567 suspected lawbreakers were caught on the city’s underground network.

Whole cities in which the algorithms are working say they have seen a decrease in crime. According to Yitu, which says it gets its figures directly from the local authorities, since the system has been implemented, pickpocketing on Xiamen’s city buses has fallen by 30 per cent; 500 criminal cases have been resolved by AI in Suzhou since June 2015; and police arrested nine suspects identified by algorithms during the 2016 G20 summit in Hangzhou.

“Chinese authorities are collecting and centralising ever more information about hundreds of millions of ordinary people, identifying persons who deviate from what they determine to be ‘normal thought’ and then surveilling them,” says Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW.

Research and advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says security systems such as those being developed by Yitu “violate privacy and target dissent”.

The NGO calls it a “police cloud” system and believes “it is designed to track and predict the activities of activists, dissidents and ethnic minorities, including those authorities say have extreme thoughts, among others”.

Zhu  says, “We all discuss AI as an opportunity for humanity to advance or as a threat to it. What I believe is that we will have to redefine what it is to be human. We will have to ask our­selves what the foundations of our species are.

“At the same time, AI will allow us to explore the boundar­ies of human intelligence, evaluate its performance and help us understand ourselves better.”

Source: South China Morning Post



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