China's ever-growing reliance on facial recognition is spreading to public housing. Beijing is ramping up the use of face-detecting smart locks in public housing projects to bolster security for tenants (such as denying access to strangers) and crack down on abuses like illegal sublets. It even asks management to check on senior residents if they haven't entered or left their homes after a certain period of time. There are 47 projects using the technology as of the end of 2018, but the city now aims to have it in every project (serving about 120,000 tenants) by the end of June 2019. As with other uses of facial recognition in the country, this convenience comes at a steep cost to privacy.
HANGZHOU, CHINA - JANUARY 16: Alibaba employees watch an artificial intelligence robot named ET writing Spring Festival couplets at Alibaba's Xixi District on January 16, 2017 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. The robot named ET writes exclusive Spring Festival couplets for each Alibaba employee after using face recognition technology and speech recognition technology. The buzzword among the business and tech communities in China for the past year has been'AI', or artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence, which allows software to "learn" human ways of thinking, is being incorporated into the largest e-commerce platforms, including Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, as well as into data-intensive traditional sectors. With strong government backing and concentrated research in this area, AI is poised to drive China's economy forward toward higher levels of growth.
SHANGHAI--A Chinese startup that sells facial recognition systems to police forces secured venture-capital funding that values it at more than $1.5 billion, underscoring the sector's emergence as one of technology's hottest areas of interest. Beijing-based SenseTime Co., which provides surveillance systems using facial recognition to Chinese law enforcement agencies, said Tuesday it raised $410 million in new funding from investors, lifting it to so-called unicorn status with a value of more than $1 billion. Using artificial intelligence, facial recognition systems from SenseTime and others can identify people in a crowd by matching their faces against those on file in image databases. Facial recognition works by breaking down a person's face into a series of measurements and using them to create a template that can be compared with others in a database. In China, adoption has been especially swift, aided by a large network of surveillance cameras, a national photo ID index and relatively few concerns about privacy.
Unfamiliar faces aren't welcome at Beijing public housing projects. To prevent illegal subletting, many have facial recognition systems that allow entry only to residents and certain delivery staff, according to state news agency Xinhua. Each of the city's 59 public housing sites is due to have the technology by year's end. Artificial intelligence startup Megvii mentioned a similar public housing security contract in an unspecified Chinese city in filing for an initial public offering in Hong Kong last week. The Chinese startup, best-known for facial recognition, touts its government dealings, including locking down public housing to curb subletting, as a selling point to potential investors.
The annual trade show CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is a deluge of smart appliances, many of which do things totally unnecessary--case in point, the talking A.I.-powered toilet--but there are some products that legitimately excite the masses and prove to be of real-world use. A Beijing startup named Forward X is hoping its self-driving robot suitcase belongs in the latter camp. Having made its debut at the Las Vegas trade show to positive coverage, the Ovis is ready to hit the global market with a crowdfunding campaign that starts today. The company foresees most of its initial customers to be Americans, which explains why the marketing effort is mostly centered around its NorCal office. But a week ago, I got the chance to meet company founder Nicholas Chee for a demonstration in Hong Kong.