China Finds Waldo


Finding needles in haystacks or Waldo in a crowd is near impossible for us, but child’s play for modern data recognition software, and that should make you happy and scared at the same time.

A camera system is the eyes of a physical enterprise, seeing everything, but up to now, not making much sense out of it. And the scary part is that all this sensibility is available to you now, and on the cheap. Take China. With a population of 1.4 billion, it’s easy to get lost in a crowd, but during a concert attended by 60,000 a camera noticed a face in a crowd, namely some poor guy who was in trouble because of ‘economic crimes’ (not paying sales taxes?). A simple camera with good enough resolution to be perceived by big brother in the ‘cloud’, apprehending not only this fugitive from the law but all 60,000 of those other folks, and duly noting who was naughty and who was nice, and registering it all on his or her social credit cards.

Presently, a camera based system with its smarts in the cloud can recognize not only your employees and visitors, but make sense of every moving object out and about your enterprise. So, you recognize anything, gauge its intent, and in an instant send out the constabulary to apprehend him or send him a coupon for 10% off. But it can also do much more, for good or ill. It just depends how you use it. For the American enterprise, privacy concerns argue against too much connivance in camera systems, although the smarts are there. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to secure your company against the malicious Waldos of the world. It just means that with today’s technology you can find them faster, and maybe give them a coupon to boot!

And yup. We do camera systems, and smart one’s too, but they can’t send out coupons to trespassing malefactors, at least just yet.

More about how cameras can be used with the cloud

If You Jaywalk in China, Facial Recognition Means You’ll Walk Away With A Fine

More about how cameras can be misused with the cloud

Reeve goes to KFC and the facial recognition machine recognizes her and asks her if she wants the usual, as if she’s a regular customer and the machine is a personable waiter with a sharp memory.

She gets toilet paper from a machine at a public restroom that dispenses a limited amount over a nine-minute period. If she tries to get more, it recognizes her face and tells her to try again later. Good for conservation. Bad if you like to keep your sh-t private.

She visits SenseTime, one of the leading facial recognition tech companies in Beijing, where the front doors remain locked unless the camera recognizes the approaching person’s face. Good for security. Bad for people who show up late to work.

Then things get creepier.

We see what the security cameras see, not the ones that recommend your third fried chicken family meal of the week but the ones that are set up all around Beijing watching for crime. The camera picks up on clothes people are wearing, the color of cars driving by, and it matches faces with citizens’ mandatory, government-issued identification cards.

Reeve visits a government-owned apartment complex where a camera at the front door sees who comes in and out. That data are collected and the manager can see who has the most visitors, when they arrive, when they leave and what they look like. And, it seems, this isn’t the half of what the government cameras actually collect.

China’s facial recognition technology is scary, we don’t want it in U.S.

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