Jaywalking in China? Surveillance system could SMS you a fine

An AI company that works with Shenzen police is creating a system that'll use CCTV cameras to identify jaywalkers and send them a fine via messaging app.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
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Daniel Van Boom
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Imagine this. You're walking about town. You decide to be an efficient pedestrian and cross the street without permission from some jerk traffic light. Your renegade act gets caught on AI-powered CCTV that recognizes your face. A message pops up on your phone containing a fine.

This scene sounds like grim futurism, but it could soon be a reality in the Chinese city of Shenzen, the South China Morning Post reports.

In Shenzen, a city with a population of over 12 million, a company called Intellifusion has worked with local police to set up AI-powered boards by intersections. If you jaywalk, your face will appear on the board -- alongside your family name. Now, Intellifusion is looking to work with mobile carriers and messaging platforms like WeChat, China's version of WhatsApp, to notify jaywalkers of their transgression on their phones. 

"Jaywalking has always been an issue in China," Wang Jun, Intellifusion's director of marketing solutions, told SCMP. "A combination of technology and psychology … can greatly reduce instances of jaywalking and will prevent repeat offences." 

The power of China's surveillance state is immense, and growing. The country's CCTV surveillance network, which by 2020 will be made up of over 600 million AI-powered CCTV cameras, is currently able to track citizens, and identify what car they drive and even who their friends are, a December BBC report showed. Back in February, officers in the Henan province were given sunglasses with an AI-powered lens that can recognize around 100,000 faces from a police database.

Between the beginning of 2016 and April of 2017, traffic police in Shenzen worked on over 200,000 cases of jaywalking, reported the state-owned China Daily.

"On the one hand, anybody who has witnessed the chaos of Chinese traffic can have a degree of sympathy with the authorities' attempts to make the roads safer," said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International. "But on the other hand, there are obvious practical concerns about the possibility of misidentification of faces. But beyond that, there's the more fundamental worry of how the Chinese state will deploy AI technology in its criminal justice system, which routinely and systematically violates human rights".

Over a period of 10 months, ending in February this year, the AI board in Shenzen displayed 13,930 faces of jaywalkers, reports SCMP. The publication added that only 10 percent of the city's population can be identified by Intellifusion's AI system, but this number will rise dramatically once different provincial governments merge there databases. 

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