How China's Police Are Using AI To locate Lost Elderly Citizens

China has become notorious for mass surveillance in recent years, which has manifested itself in many ways. A prevalent example of this is the use of Shenzhen’s widespread network of AI-enabled cameras to detect citizens Jaywalking and automatically issue a fine. The guilty individuals are then publicly displayed on electronic boards as further punishment. This mix of a fine and humiliation has been one of the more controversial uses of AI to date in the country.

One of Shenzhen’s “humiliation boards“ that have led many to question our use of AI.

One of Shenzhen’s “humiliation boards“ that have led many to question our use of AI.

Although China’s use of AI is already shrouded with claims of privacy violation, the government hopes this new use can shift the public’s perspective on the topic. China has a problem a lot of nations are beginning to see. An increasing elderly population. Currently 17.3% of China’s population is aged 60 or more and it is predicted to increase to around 35% by 2050. With this aging population comes an issue that does not frequently appear in China’s political conversation but affects a lot of families in the country and throughout the world, that being, elderly citizens getting lost.

Every year about 500,000 people ,who are aged 60 or more, go missing which is around 9615.4 a week. This due to elderly citizens suffering from degrading memory as well as limited hearing and eyesight, with around three quarters of the lost elderly being described as “mentally challenged“.

China believes the solution to this lies in the use of widespread facial recognition. Although flawed at the beginning when police forces began to use it to match crimes with criminals in 2001 the technologies have come a long way with more than 30 different industries seeing facial recognition implementation. A key player in the field comes from China itself. SenseTime, founded in October 2014, became the most funded AI startup in history last year. Part of SenseTime’s success is due to its connections with the Chinese government, which has led to the government being one of SenseTime’s largest clients. For example SenseTime created the government’s “viper“ system which is capable of processing upwards of 100,000 live streams from CCTV, ATMs, traffic cameras, as well as any other video fed the government has access to, in order to track and keep tabs on specific individuals. Although there is little public trust surrounding the area, AI is clearly a booming industry with a large talent pool in the country, shown by SenseTime and others like it.

The first trials of this technology have been conducted in the Haidian district of Beijing. Here a smart city AI has been locating lost elderly with promising results. There have even been cases in which a lost citizen with Alzheimer’s disease was found and sent home in under an hour.

If successful systems such as these could bring nothing but benefits to the Chinese police force and lead to a reduction in the opportunity cost of searching for lost elderly as the heavy lifting is done by AI systems. However, as expected, these announcements come with fears of China using this good cause as a way to further increase its surveillance networks and accustom the public to an Orwellian lifestyle.

Ethics, SecurityArturo Dezon