How good is China’s surveillance technology? We all know that facial recognition software exists. It’s all over Hollywood used by fictional cops or tech experts the world over and it’s used by real life people as well. China has taken this kind of technology to a new level with gait recognition software that can identify people by the way that they walk.

The way that they walk?

Artificial Intelligence developed by Chinese tech company Watrix is able to identify people by their body shape and the way that they walk. Reportedly it is able to recognize people from 50 meters (164 feet) away. So far this technology has been introduced in Beijing and Shanghai for mass surveillance efforts.

The software extracts a silhouette of the person, generates a model of the person and analyzes how it moves as a person walks. It cannot be done in real time yet, but instead the video is uploaded into the program and it takes about ten minutes to analyze an hour’s worth of tape.

The next generation of surveillance tech

As far as surveillance technology goes this helps to expand the use of facial recognition software which requires an individual to not only get close to the camera but to also have their face visible to the camera. The entire body is analyzed so it cannot be fooled by limping or changing how you walk. No new hardware needs to be installed since it can analyze typical security camera footage.

This technology is being used so far to combat jaywalking and to identify people in crowds or elderly people who are in danger like if they have fallen down, or so claims the CCP. There are of course fears that it will be misused, especially against China’s minority Muslim population which is already under extreme surveillance. In China though the people are used to social control so it is being accepted there by normal citizens so far.

Not the first effort

Gait recognition software is not something that only China has sought. Scientists in the US, UK and Japan have all worked on this. There was a lot of skepticism that the technology was feasible and a pilot program was introduced in Japan in 2013 with the National Police. Watrix’s effort is the first time that the software has been commercialized.

China’s efforts to control its citizens is not new and this gives the government a new tool to do just that. It is no secret that the Chinese government is implementing a system to grade its citizens on their trustworthiness (ie loyalty) and they have been tracking the people for years to build that system. AI has been at the heart of that as well. Is this the proper use of AI and is it possible that something like this could be implemented in the US?

It’s not all perfect for China’s AI

One of the major issues facing China is jaywalking and AI is used to spot jaywalkers and fine them. Well, the system was so overzealous that it accused the leader of China’s largest air-conditioner maker Dong Mingzhu of jaywalking. The problem is she didn’t. It nabbed her face off of the side of a bus advertisement and posted that picture to a billboard notice designed to shame jaywalkers and warn them of their actions. Once the mistake was realized the photo was deleted (by a human) and no action is being taken towards her. The authorities are working with the AI system so it can differentiate between real people and advertisements. Maybe in this case being able to identify her by how she walked would have been beneficial.

Who knew that the way that you walk is unique and can be identifiable? Who also knew that we have the technological prowess to actually do that? We do thanks to AI. There are legitimate questions that come with technology that will need to be answered before something like this can be implemented in the US but chances are within 20 years we will not only be able to be identified by our faces while walking down the street but by the way we walk. We are already being tracked, both in real life and online but how much privacy are we willing to give up? Will we too one day be ranked on our social behavior to determine our eligibility for benefits and services? Let’s hope not.

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