Facial recognition, AI and big data poised to boost Chinese public safety

2017-10-17 10:52Global Times Editor: Li Yan ECNS App Download

Using cutting-edge tech, China now boasts the world's largest surveillance network

○ China is developing high-tech surveillance systems that are able to scan faces and locate suspects

○ With over 20 million closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, China now has the world's largest monitoring network

○ Compared with developed countries, China still lags behind in the number of CCTV cameras per capita

"The machine," an advanced computer system featured in the American television drama Person of Interest that is able to use closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras to predict crimes, may not be so far fetched after all. A video that went viral on Chinese social media recently offered a glimpse into just how far China's cutting-edge surveillance technology has come.

In the video, footage taken by CCTV cameras is instantly tagged with information of passing vehicles and pedestrians, including each person's sex, age and clothing and the model and color of cars. Tags appear on each person and vehicle as soon as they enter the camera's range.

The system is also able to scan faces and compare them with its database of criminal suspects at large. When there is a match, an alarm notifies the police of its findings.

Resembling Minority Report or some other sci-fi movie, this cutting-edge surveillance technology is from a new system developed by SenseTime, a Chinese technology company headquartered in Beijing.

Equipped with 20 million CCTV cameras, China now has the largest monitoring network in the world, according to Amazing China, a six-episode documentary co-produced by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and China Central Television (whose acronym is also, coincidentally, CCTV).

The network, dubbed "Skynet" (a name taken from the fictional net-based artificial intelligence in the futuristic Terminator films), aims to boost public security as personal and societal safety threats increase across the world.

Operation Skynet

Wang Qiang, a specialist in non-war military actions at the National Defense University of the People's Liberation Army, defines the Skynet system as an infrastructure based on artificial intelligence and big data that aims to boost public safety. "CCTV cameras are like eyes that protects people's safety," he said.

Since it was launched in 2011, many Chinese cities have been stepping up their effort to deploy more CCTV cameras.

From 2011 to 2015, the government of Changsha, Hunan Province, invested 528 million yuan ($35.39 million) in the Skynet project, installing over 50,000 CCTV cameras. At least 27,000 of them are high-definition, capable of capturing footage at night using infrared lenses, according to news portal The government of Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, had deployed 35,000 CCTV cameras in the city by 2016, with over half being high-definition.

The sheer number of new CCTV cameras, however, may not be enough. In 2015, Chinese regulators issued a document on the strengthening of its surveillance camera network, aiming to boost public safety, optimize traffic and serve city management.

According to the document, by 2020 China will build a surveillance network that achieves full coverage in key locations, connected to the Internet and with a serviceability rate at over 95 percent in major public areas. The network will also feature an internal security system, preventing sensitive footage from being hacked or stolen.

Amazing China features a scene at the big data center in the public security bureau in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, where a large screen exhibits hundreds of scenes captured by CCTV cameras in the city - all in real time.

"CCTV camera coverage on the roads is already very high. If a crime happens, we are capable of zooming into a certain spot on the suspect's body, according to our needs," said Zhong Cong, a police officer at the bureau whose responsibility is to analyze and predict crimes based on this footage.

"Criminals will have nowhere to hide thanks to the three-dimensional public security protection system," he added.

Apart from the cameras, Suzhou police are also able to predict crimes through big data such as each household's consumption of water and electricity. When anomalies occur, the system will send alarms, according to the documentary.

A big data system on the consumption of fertilizer and petroleum, has also been deployed in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to alert public security authorities of possible crimes, South Magazine reported earlier. Ammonium nitrate fertilizers, when combined with other reagents, can become a powerful explosive.


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