The recent case of a Chinese driver getting fine for scratching his face is a funny example of current AI surveillance technology. Yet it is also a wake-up call on the dangers of pervasive AI surveillance by the state.
Fined For Scratching Nose By AI Surveillance System!
A Jinan resident, Mr. Liu, was driving his car in the eastern Shandong province, when he raised his hand to touch his face. Most of us unconsciously do that 2 to 5 times per minute!
Unbeknownst to him, one of the many AI surveillance cameras in the city noticed his action, and issued him a fine of 50 yuan* and 2 demerit points for “driving while holding a phone“.
* Approximately $7.25 / £5.70 / €6.50 / RM 30
The Jinan AI surveillance system also sent him this screenshot of his traffic violation, as captured at 7:20 AM on 20 May 2019.
Just like many automated systems (looking at you, Facebook and Google!), there was no way to dispute the charge. Mr. Liu tried to sort out the situation over the phone, but “no one would help him“.
He only got justice by appealing to the court of public opinion on Sina Weibo, where his post went viral. Only then did the Jinan traffic police department take notice and investigate his complaint.
Two days later, they cancelled his ticket after confirming that he was only touching his face, and not actually using a phone while driving.
AI Surveillance In Chinese Cities
China has been working hard at developing smart cities, as part of their social engineering efforts to quell political dissent and encourage Chinese citizens to “behave properly”.
There are already over 170 million surveillance cameras across China, with a projected 400 million surveillance cameras installed by next year. And they are all controlled by AI surveillance systems.
Such extensive surveillance coverage has allowed the Chinese government to detect crimes and punish their citizens for them. It also feeds the new Social Credit System – a national reputation system that assess the economic and social reputation of every Chinese citizen and business.
However, such pervasive surveillance has led to serious privacy implications for the Chinese citizenry. Anyone who wants to understand the power, allure and dangers of AI surveillance should watch the TV series, Person of Interest.
The Dangers Of AI Surveillance
While AI surveillance technology is now quite incredible, this case has exposed its vulnerabilities and limitations.
- Human oversight is still necessary, because AI surveillance is not accurate enough to detect false positives.
- It may be tempting to make the AI surveillance system the judge, jury and executioner, but such systems need to implement the principle of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt“, and that means ignoring anything that is not close to a 99.9% match.
- There should be an appeal system in place. It took a viral social media post to alert the Jinan traffic police department to the mistake.
- There is also the question of personal data security. Can the government securely store the data, without unsanctioned or illegal access? How long should they store the information before they are deleted?
Alibaba Cloud + The Malaysia City Brain
Alibaba Cloud is one of the chief architects of Chinese smart city initiative and AI surveillance capabilities with their ET City Brain that runs on their Tianchi Platform.
Last year, Alibaba Cloud announced their collaboration with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to introduce the Malaysia City Brain.
The first phase of the Malaysia City Brain will kickstart with 382 AI traffic cameras at 281 traffic light junctions in Kuala Lumpur.
Although the Malaysian government is ostensibly implementing the Malaysia City Brain to “optimise the flow of vehicles and timing of traffic signals“, it is really a short step to the Chinese model of population and crime surveillance.
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