It is no secret that China is a surveillance state. Millions of cameras have been installed to monitor the populace and AI is incorporated into the system to not only track people using facial recognition software but to also track people by the way that they walk. AI is also used to help track citizens online to help push the Chinese Communist Party’s line and to keep the people from discovering that things can be better in the outside world. Despite all of this the development and implementation of these systems requires a lot of brainpower and in at least one instance it is being used for good.


Baidu is not a household name here in the US but in China it is the equivalent of Google. You could argue that it is China’s version of Google. It became popular just after Google was kicked out of China and its look and feel is very Google-ish. Because of China’s strict control of the Internet it is one of the most popular websites in the world as millions of Chinese users use it the way Americans use Google.

Inspired by a Stray Cat

One winter day an engineer at Baidu, Wan Xi, found a stray cat in his car. Like with any major city Beijing has a problem with stray cats. It can also get cold in the winter there with the average December, January and February temperatures not getting above the freezing mark. Because of this as many as 60% of all stray cats in the city die. Beijing is at about the same latitude as York is!

Finding the stray cat just trying to stay warm gave the engineer an idea. Baidu has incorporated AI into is business and has implemented it in both its search engine as well as its own Netflix-esque service called iQiyi. He apparently locked himself in his home and didn’t emerge until he had developed the outline of a system to help the stray cats. Once that was in place he put the company’s AI team on it.

How it Works

How it works is pretty neat. A cat will approach the shelter and it will be able to gain access to the shelter through facial recognition software. That is of course as long as the cat looks at the camera. The system is designed to only allow cats in, no other animals, especially dogs. Once inside the door will close behind the cat and the feline will enter a kitty-sized living area. It will be heated and have food and water for them. The cat can leave at any time and the system utilizes night vision so that cats can come in at night.

And that is not all. The system is capable of checking cats for four different diseases, for injuries and looking for an ear tag to see if the animal has been spayed or neutered. It can scan 174 different breeds of cat. If a sick, injured or non-neutered animal is found an alert is sent to a volunteer group that will come and tend to them or have them fixed. It is hoped that this will not only help to cut down on the stray cat problem by preventing them from reproducing but also improving their quality of life.

AI Helping to Find Lost Pets

There is also another major benefit. No one wants to lose a pet and by having to scan their face pictures of all stray cats will be available so if an animal is lost a pet owner can simply have a look to see if their pet has been picked up by the camera. AI has already been trialed for issues like this even here in the US. The first such system was trialed in Baltimore and is at least 90% accurate while reuniting numerous humans with their beloved pets.

AI has also been incorporated into helping with wildlife preservation efforts here in the US. A system was developed by students at Michigan State to help track endangered primates in Madagascar and prevent illegal trafficking of them. It replaces tracking animals and tagging them with trackers that have a limited battery life with facial recognition software. Similar efforts are underway to work with lions in Africa and Bengal Tigers, which are highly coveted in China and are facing extinction. It’s always something isn’t it China?

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