Robots Weekly ?: China Goes Authoritechian ??

You may have heard that China and the US are in a race for AI superiority. You may have also heard about their social credit system. Let’s use the first topic to springboard into the second topic. ?

Both countries have their relative strengths, but China has one distinct advantage.

China Rules Facial Recognition ?

Hmmmm…what could China possibly do with the best facial recognition algorithms on the planet? I wonder why Chinese companies are so good at this? ?

China’s Social Submission, er…Scoring System ?

China’s social scoring system, still in its infancy, is terrifying. Of course that is an opinion from a different way of life and cultural experience. But still, it has dystopian sci-fi future written all over it. ?

A network of 220 million cameras outfitted with facial rec, body scanning, and geo tracking. And this insane info net will be paired with every citizen’s digital footprint. Everything is compiled to create a social credit score of sorts that is updated in real time and determines how easily you can interact with society and live your life. Piss the government off and become an outcast with no options. Dear China, Phillip K Dick called, he’d like his dystopia back. ?

It’s no guarantee that this form of digital dictatorship will be exported on a mass scale (you know it’ll be exported at some scale) if China were to win the AI space race, but it’s a chilling possibility. A lot of ink is spilled talking about the potential for a robot uprising and AI taking over, but the misuse of AI by human actors is far more relevant and just as fraught. We’ve been our own biggest enemy for centuries, why would that suddenly change now? ?

The Future is Face Based ?

Computer vision is the engine behind China’s Panopticon, and SenseTime is the engine behind many of these computer vision capabilities. And a lot of what they have developed has a dystopian feel to it with hidden cameras scanning faces (and more) and triggering different actions via AI. ?

“That’s really how they see future interactions,” says Jean-François Gagné, who runs Canadian startup Element AI Inc. “You don’t need to log in to your computer, you don’t need to get a boarding pass, you don’t need to do anything anywhere. You’re just recognized.”

Not gonna lie, that does sound pretty cool. No more remembering passwords or tickets, no panicked pocket checking. But that glosses over the tyrannical implications of the tech as well, like freezing a dissident out of everything based on their face. ?

Scary thing a Chinese tech leader said, part 1:

“We’re not really thinking very far ahead, you know, whether we’re having some conflicts with humans, those kinds of things,” [SenseTime co-founder Tang Xiao’ou] said. “We’re just trying to make money.”


Actual Dept of Funny Walks ?‍♀️?‍♂️

But wait, there’s more! This system won’t be constrained to just facial recognition and id/device scanning of some kind. One Chinese tech company has developed a system to identify you by your gait. ?

Scary thing a Chinese tech leader said, part 2:

According to Haung Yongzhen, the CEO of Watrix: “You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity. Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”


My guess is every form of tracking possible will be explored and baked in if feasible. You won’t even be able to Minority Report it. ?️

“Well, at least it’s just one country,” you say? ?

Speaking of Exporting It… ?

Venezuela decided they wanted some of that sweet authoritechian goodness for themselves. An idea that started as a push to get more people identification to help integrate them into society has turned into a way to monitor and control the populace. They called up their buddies in China and asked for a hand. ?

“What we saw in China changed everything,” said the member of the Venezuelan delegation, technical advisor Anthony Daquin. His initial amazement, he said, gradually turned to fear that such a system could lead to abuses of privacy by Venezuela’s government. “They were looking to have citizen control.”

A build-your-own-authoritarian-regmie kit. Lovely. The Venezuelan leaders don’t seem to be making any effort to disguise their intentions either. ?

Scary thing a Chinese tech leader said, part 3:

“We don’t support the government,” [Su Qingfeng, the head of ZTE’s Venezuela unit,] said. “We are just developing our market.”

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Original featured photo by Justin Ennis | Overlay from Open Images Dataset v4 by Google