China follows all citizens and subordinates them to the all-powerful AI


To know exactly what people think, what citizens read and talk about in kitchens is the cherished dream of every totalitarian ruler. The surveillance technologies were constantly polished: wiretapping of telephone conversations, perusal of letters and encouragement of denunciations were going on - but it was not possible to establish complete control for anyone. And now China, it seems, intends to fulfill a totalitarian dream: citizens of the country have been under the sights of hundreds of millions of cameras for several years united by a single system of control and analysis of images and face recognition. On the basis of the collected information, artificial intelligence makes to every citizen an assessment, which then will largely determine his whole life. TheEverydayNews.com understood how the Communist Party seeks to take every Chinese citizen under its vigilant control.


"The whole world has become a giant film set, and in this studio millions of cameras look at you from everywhere" - the Chinese director Xu Bin shows his creation: a film mounted from 10 thousand hours of video from surveillance cameras. There are no actors or operators, but all the characters are related to each other, and the it tells a love story against the backdrop of the everyday life of thousands of ordinary Chinese.

New forms of cinema art only reflect modern Chinese reality. The Chinese authorities are investing in the development of an increasingly sophisticated face recognition system that will allow the highest identification of a person by the distance between the eyebrows, the oval of the cheeks, the length of the nose and the shape of the chin.

The developers of Chinese companies SenseTime Group, Face++ and DeepGlint stepped forward than Apple with its innovative FaceID technology on the flagship smartphones of the iPhone X. As the Chinese claim, their system will become indispensable in everyday life: with its help, for example, it will be possible to easily pay lunch, try on a new hairstyle or makeup, to track whether the child reached the school - did not turn off on the way to an illegal Internet cafe (the entrance to legal institutions is forbidden to children). The employer will always be aware of which of the subordinates earns him money, and who is idling in the workplace.

It comes to ridiculous: for example, in some public toilets in Beijing, paper is issued after scanning the face and only once: the next portion you will have to wait 9 minutes. In the restaurants of the KFC chain, discounts are offered to those customers whose face the system finds the most pretty. That is, if your nose is not the most elegant or the ears are lop-eared, you will have to pay in full, but those whose appearance Chinese artificial intelligence will find attractive enough will receive a discount.

Developers of face recognition systems talk about their invention with an optimistic smile. "The market for face recognition systems is huge," Zhang Shilian, assistant professor, specialist in machine learning and imaging, admires his creation. "Security for China is extremely important, besides, our country has such a large population!"

"The convenience of the system is what attracts Chinese users. Managing companies of some residential complexes use face recognition as a pass to the territory, and restaurants and shops are trying to introduce technology to improve the quality of service. It's not just that the customer can pay off with the help of the system, but also that the system warns employees about the arrival of the client, and they are already on the threshold of greeting me: "Hello, Mr. Tan!" - said a consultant of Face++.

Meanwhile, all this can be called side effects. The global surveillance system is needed primarily for the Chinese state. According to representatives of the ruling party, the main goal of introducing scientific innovation is to control the level of crime and corruption. In the city of Shenzhen, for example, law enforcement officers use this system to identify violators of traffic rules - the number of detainees on this occasion, however, is not given.

I see you

The future did not come as suddenly as it might seem. The new technology only complements and develops the already existing scale system for labeling and ranking of citizens. Back in 2005, the Chinese government launched a special system in Beijing that allows the state to monitor the behavior of citizens (read: to monitor their personal lives) with cameras installed literally on several pieces at each corner. The creation of IT specialists and engineers of the Celestial Empire did not receive a big name and was called a "CCTV system" (CCTV, 视频 监控), but Western media dubbed it SkyNet, comparing it with the powerful artificial intellect from the "Terminator" universe. By 2008, there were more than 300,000 cameras in Beijing. Today around 170 million cameras are installed across the country, and by 2020 "SkyNet" will acquire 450 million more tracking devices.

In 2013, with the Shanghai activist of the human rights movement, lawyer Li Tiantian, a curious story occurred. "One morning I went to court for a hearing and called a taxi in advance. The police used my phone to track the car to my house. The order-keepers were already waiting to stop me. Those who understand information technology say that the police can follow you on your personal phone and even listen to conversations," she says. According to her, during friendly meetings with friends, they always take the phones to another room. Considering how the system of all-Chinese surveillance develops, this circumspection of Li is hardly a paranoia.

Specialists, however, note that the system has serious flaws. For example, insufficient accuracy. Once the photo, sex and age of the person are entered into the database, the system must find coincidence within 80 seconds with a level of accuracy of more than 88 percent. But, according to experts, the average accuracy does not exceed 60 percent, maximum - 70. Thus, while this system can still be considered a "paper tiger".

One of the researchers of the Faculty of Informatics of the Beijing Polytechnic University believes that among the 1.5 billion people there are citizens whose faces are almost identical to each other, even parents can not even discern. Now access to the database of the system is limited, only some companies closely associated with the Ministry of Public Security can use it, but wider access for "rating" will invariably lead to the leakage of personal information. The researcher believes that this leads to the need to choose between security and the right to privacy.

Liberal-minded Chinese citizens are even more severely criticized by the technology: "We are almost completely covered by the Sky Net system, which is simply huge and aimed at controlling people on the streets," said Hu Jia, a Chinese dissident residing in Beijing, to a non-profit company Radio Free Asia.

During the discussion about the future of China in the Taiwan research institute Academia Sinica in general, there were words about "digitized totalitarianism". Professor of Political Science at Sun Yat-sen University expressed concern that this technology is capable of hacking any forms of political disagreement before it arise, and called it "a modern form of political engineering." Chinese Internet users are also asking about the feasibility of introducing a system. "Why are so many offenses committed against children, if the system is working?" - the user xianzaihe_89 is surprised. "We do not have any personal space at all, all under the supervision of the government!" - indignant Neidacongmin.

The Truman Show in Chinese, or the social rating of citizens

Face recognition systems are part of the so-called system of social trust or citizen lending, which already operates in a number of Chinese cities. Its concept, presented by the Chinese authorities in 2014, is that every step of the owner of a smartphone (and in China this is about 633 million people) is recorded and entered into the database of the system.

It accumulates information about a person, tracks his credit history, likes and scrubs in social networks, the history of purchases on online platforms, geo-tags and so on. And not for contextual advertising. Sky Net data is used to assign a rating to each citizen. The higher the rating, the more social bonuses: it is easier to make a purchase, get a loan, send a child to a kindergarten or get medical help. If for some reason the rating is too low (wrong like from the point of view of the ruling party or an unpaid fine for a minor violation), then there is a risk of becoming not just a socially dangerous element, but a kind of untouchable.

Friends, acquaintances and even family will be afraid of contact with such a person, as this, in turn, can lower their rating. Public debate about what is right and what is not, is not being conducted - everything has long been decided and regulated in high party offices. It is ironic that in a country with such rigid and developed censorship as China, the personal life of ordinary people can become accessible to any person by one click of a mouse - broadcasts from many cameras are already available on the Internet.

How will life in the Middle Kingdom change and what do the Chinese themselves think about it? Most of the citizens of the China are not too concerned about the consequences of the widespread introduction of the system of face recognition and tracking. This can be explained by the old Chinese tradition: to live in the public eye, with the curtains open and without the lock on the doors, the Chinese had many years before the economic transformations of the 1980s began.

The older generation literally shared the bed with their parents and brothers, the house with neighbors and colleagues. The notion of personal space was obliterated from the Chinese mentality finally as far back as the Cultural Revolution that raged in China in the 60s and 70s of the last century and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of dissidents.

With the development of the economy in the period of reforms, the standard of living and welfare of citizens grew, so the Chinese, born in the 80s and 90s, value their personal space: they already had their own bed or even a room in their parents' house. Chinese citizens under the age of 30 years have experience of studying and working abroad, in the West - this also left a liberal mark in their minds. They return to their homeland by other people, with new ideas that are far from official party propaganda. These young people are not ready to exchange personal life for the new blessings of civilization. They think critically and see the shortcomings of the existing regime.

Unfortunately, while those who do not agree with the formation of a global observation society, there are only two ways - to integrate against their ideals into the system or emigrate to countries where people know little more about human rights and post their claims to the Communist Party on Twitter, which are unlikely to be ever seen by their addressees.

Arthur Swan
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