China surveillance tech can ID people by their walk, report says

It's apparently in use in Beijing and Shanghai.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou

People walk into a subway station in Beijing.

Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Watch your step. At least, that's what computers are reportedly doing on the streets in China.

Chinese authorities have started using "gait recognition" software -- artificial intelligence that identifies people by their body shape and the way they walk -- for mass surveillance on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The tech can reportedly recognize people from up to 50 meters away, even if their face is hidden or their back is facing the camera. The software is reportedly provided by Chinese tech company Watrix.

China is already using facial recognition in its increasing surveillance efforts. By 2020, the country plans to employ a nationwide social credit system to give every citizen a personal score based on their behavior. China is using facial recognition, AI, smart glasses and other technologies to monitor, rate and sometimes shame its citizens.

Watrix's software extracts a person's silhouette from a video and analyzes the person's movement to generate a model of how he or she walks, according to the AP. The tech can't recognize people in real time yet. Video must be uploaded into the program, and it takes about 10 minutes to find a match in an hour-long tape, according to the AP.