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New Technology – Facial recognition is thriving in China

Baidu's facial recognition system for Wuzhen

The future has arrived in China. Remember how sci-fi films and programs like Minority Report and Person of Interest show the use of facial recognition systems to identify people? Well, it’s already a reality in that corner of the world.

Actual uses of facial recognition

In fact, the technology is now pretty widespread in China. Here are a few examples:

  • Didi, a major ride-sharing company, uses Face++ facial recognition software to let passengers verify that drivers are who they say they are.
  • Beijing authorities installed dispensers with facial recognition software in public toilets to control how much toilet paper you can get.
  • Local city governments are using facial recognition software to identify suspected criminals from surveillance cameras videos.
  • Search giant Baidu has two notable projects:
    • A system that lets people get their rail tickets by merely showing their face;
    • A partnership with Wuzhen (a historic scenic town) to provide access to tourists without a ticket.
Beijing public toilets use dispensers with facial recognition, which limit how much toilet paper you can take.

In recent years, facial recognition technology has become so accurate that it’s possible to recognize people even in grainy CCTV footage, odd angles, or poor lighting conditions.

Deep learning

This technology has actually been around for decades but today it’s become accurate enough to be used in financial transactions and still remain secure.

Latest versions of the software use “deep learning“, an artificial intelligence method that’s particularly effective in recognizing images as it enables computers to focus on certain facial characteristics that will accurately identify a person.

Just a couple of years ago, this technology would’ve been inconceivable. Now, computers can recognize faces even more reliably than a person can.

The underlying concern here is the Big Brother aspect: using computers to recognize a face in the crowd is impressive and useful, but it’s also dystopian and creepy. More importantly, it can be abused. We can’t wait to see how facial recognition pans out on this side of the globe.