Chinese Police Adopt 'Black Mirror'-Style Facial Recognition Glasses to Fight Crime
Perhaps one of the coolest (and scariest) scenes in the 2002 sci-fi movie Minority Report comes when Tom Cruise's John Anderton is located on a moving subway car in moments because he makes the mistake of paying for his journey using eye-scan technology. Once police have spotted a fugitive on a public CCTV camera, it takes no time at all to track him down.
In the modern world, this is becoming a reality—it's increasingly difficult to hide in a crowd, thanks to fantastic advances that are being made in facial recognition technology.
The Chinese state media has reported that police officials in the East Railway Station in Zhengzhou are now equipped with facial recognition sunglasses. Like Iron Man's Heads Up Display, this technology allows the officers to scan a crowd of people and identify potential dangers, based on records of criminals that are at large.
According to official channels, these glasses have already been used to apprehend 25 people who were wanted in relation to major crimes, and with the Chinese New Year festivities just around the corner, it's expected that more fugitives will be attempting to use public transport to get home to loved ones, increasing the chance that they'll be captured.
This technology is powered by a complex AI which is, at least in theory, able to identify a face even if it's obscured among a crowd of people. It's essentially the same tech that's used for unlocking modern iPhones or for billing in some more adventurous KFC restaurants, and it's part of China's ongoing efforts to use artificial intelligence to speed up the process of sifting through the country's billion inhabitants in order to find anyone who's been sowing disharmony throughout the nation.
It's hard not to think of the achievements of a team that is part of London's Metropolitan Police, active in a city that has one of the highest number of CCTV cameras in the world. For years, the unit has been tasked with tracking down perpetrators based solely on their photos on CCTV footage, and they have a fairly solid success rate.
If this kind of investigative crime solving were possible for even non-specialized police teams, thanks to AI technology, then it would become significantly more difficult for criminals to get away with illegal actions. The world could, in theory, become a much safer place if cops could simply look at a person and be instantly told if they had any outstanding arrest warrants.
Of course, even for those of us who have nothing to hide, this kind of technology makes us a little nervous. Anonymity is a concept that's increasingly endangered, as governments (as well as businesses) get better at monitoring their populations, whether or not they've done anything wrong.
Do the Zhengzhou police's AI glasses, for example, flag up people who have unpaid parking tickets, or who have been caught using the internet to search for banned topics like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre? In a nation that is obsessed with rules and regulations, what level of crime are these police looking for when they scan a crowd?
This is to say nothing of the ways that this technology can fail. AI facial recognition technology is far from perfect, and if one of these cops is incorrectly informed that a person they're looking at is a dangerous criminal, then someone is going to have a particularly bad day for no other reason than a simple case of digital mistaken identity.
It's likely only a matter of time before this facial recognition technology ends up being used more widely around the world for cops to be able to spot criminals without specialized training.
Let's all just hope that the AI can be relied on and that this technology isn't ultimately abused by those who are in power.