The new iPhone announced yesterday apparently uses some aspects of facial recognition technology, and Edward Snowden says that it is almost certainly going to be abused. China is forging ahead with facial recognition with estimates of up to a billion people’s faces being entered into databases that enable them to be instantly recognized. The applications made possible by this are vast but the privacy implications are also disturbing.
For example, search giant Baidu showcased its facial-recognition technology at the company’s first AI developer conference in Beijing. It is also using it to verify customer identities for insurance firm Taikang. Ant Financial, the payment affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, now allows users to make transactions by scanning their faces.
Meanwhile, many hotels, schools and kindergartens are installing cameras to scan people’s faces before allowing entry. Some colleges have even resorted to installing this technology to spot “ghost writers” trying to sit exams for other students. And one KFC in Beijing is scanning customers’ faces to recommend menu items based on factors including age, gender and mood.
What struck me was one passage.
“In China, facial-recognition technologies are as good as those developed in western countries,” said Wang Shengjin, a professor at the Department of Electronic Engineering at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. “But we are far ahead when it comes to deploying it commercially.”
It used to be a nativist joke in the west that Chinese people (and indeed all East Asian people) looked alike. The fact that this software is being adopted early and most widely in China should get rid of that offensive stereotype once and for all.