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Better than a fingerprint

Chinese technologies for recognition are rapidly seizing the market, helping to return families of missing children and choose food in KFC.

The face recognition system Face ++ scans a Chinese tourist. Photo by Baidu
The face recognition system Face ++ scans a Chinese tourist. Photo by Baidu

In May 2017, a Chinese resident reunited with his family 27 years later, thanks to Face ++ face recognition system. For over a year this technology has been promoted by Baidu Corporation, extending service to various social spheres. The system is used in public places and used for advertising purposes to analyze the desires of customers.

Chinese IT experts consider technology an important element of security for the country, although Western countries are actively criticizing the service, allegedly its creators may violate the private space of users.

The story of one kidnapping

Six-year-old Fu Gui (Fu Gui) was kidnapped in 1990, when he was returning from school in the Chinese city of Chongqing. The unknown carried him to Quzhou County and sold them to foster parents. For many years the child did not have the opportunity to contact the real family.

Such tragedies occur in China quite often. According to various estimates, annually from 10 to 70 thousand children are abducted in the country . Often they are sold to foster parents, used as slaves or in prostitution.

The most famous Chinese social organization for family reunification is called Baby Back Home (Baobeihuiji). Parents or children kidnapped in the past send a photograph of the child there, and the organization searches.

To accelerate the process, in 2013 Baby Back Home began to use the face recognition system. The user of the application downloaded a photo of the right person or himself, and the system automatically searched the archives for similar images uploaded by the second participant in the search. For the first two weeks, the application downloaded 20,000 people, and two children, according to the authors, found relatives. The system had one significant flaw – it could only compare those photos on which people of approximately the same age were depicted.

Scheme of Face Face service for face recognition. Photos of Baidu
Scheme of Face Face service for face recognition. Photos of Baidu
In 2009, the adult Fu Gui uploaded a photo of his 10-year-old himself to the organization’s database, but no coincidences were found. And in March 2017, the largest Chinese IT company Baidu offered Baby Back Home a new Face Face recognition program. If you believe the company, she had to find coincidences in photos with a probability of 99.77%. The organization immediately agreed to a new technology.

A few months earlier, Fu Fu Guy had uploaded a photograph of a four-year-old son to the system. Artificial Intelligence Baidu was able to correctly compare two images of one person, made with a difference of six years, and notified the father about it. In the spring of 2017, parents finally saw their son by video link and visited him. Their relationship was confirmed by a DNA test.

Gui talks to her mother on video. Photos of Baidu
Gui talks to her mother on video. Photos of Baidu
Scale of the market

Over the past few years, face recognition technology has swept China and found application in surveillance systems, as well as in the home: with its help, bills can be paid without cash or cards and authorized in various services. Against the backdrop of the development of technology, technology publications increasingly say that the service can soon change the work of police, banks, shops and transport infrastructure.

Face ++ is a popular Chinese face recognition program, estimated at $ 1 billion. The main office of the owner of the application is located in Beijing. When a person enters the building, the program automatically scans the visitor’s face from 83 different positions and only then passes inside.

Baidu wants to use Face ++ to improve people’s lives. Technologies are always first used in areas where they are required, and after that they reflect on other perspectives and assess its public contribution.

Baidu representative

The technology of face recognition is used in several well-known Chinese applications. For example, the payment service Alipay , belonging to the shopping service Alibaba, uses only the scan of the user’s face to confirm purchases. The leading Chinese taxi service Didi uses face recognition technology so that the passenger can confirm the order and assess the professional level of the driver.

The girl is testing the face recognition service at the Beijing technology exhibition. Photos China Group
According to the authors of Face ++, in China, the technologies for recognizing people are treated with greater confidence than in Western countries. In the country there is even a centralized base of photos of citizens that the police use to search for suspects on the surveillance cameras that fill the country. In the US, for example, such a large database is not .

Specialist in the field of computer technology and assistant professor of Beijing University, Zhang Shilang (Shiliang Zhang) confirms that the Chinese market for face recognition technologies is growing. According to him, it is very important for China to develop a system capable of providing additional security in a densely populated country.

Scanners in airports and toilets

In the tourist zone near the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, the Face ++ system is used to prevent the theft of toilet paper in public restrooms, from where it is constantly being stolen by local residents. In the containers with paper built-in camera, which after a 30-second scan of the face gives a person 60 centimeters of paper. To get a new portion you need to wait nine minutes. Chinese authorities claim that three days after installing such cameras, the consumption of toilet paper in public toilets was reduced five-fold.

Equipped with scanners containers with toilet paper in Beijing. Photo of the BBC
Since November 2016, the system of face recognition has been equipped with the territory of China’s tourist attractions: at the entrance people no longer show tickets or certificates, but are scanned. The same system works in hotel rooms. The practice of using fingerprints was inconvenient: scanners worked slowly, and people lingered at the door. The Face ++ system, according to the service management, works better. When scanning, the device captures the movements of the face, so that it can not be deceived by bringing a photograph to the camera.

A similar practice of using facial scanners is used at airports in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The system captures people over 12 years old with a biometric passport. Similar services are available in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore and the United States.

Scanners in universities

In Sichuan University, one of the teachers has been using face recognition technology for more than a year to follow the reactions of students to the lecture. The program builds an interactive schedule of each student’s interest, based on the expression of his face. According to the author of the system, she helps him determine the degree of involvement of students in the topic.

In April 2017, Beijing Pedagogical University established a technology for recognizing faces in a female dormitory to protect girls from unauthorized intrusions. If the technology proves to be useful, it will be used by nine other universities.

To access the building, the girls must state their name, show the identification card and look at the camera for scanning. If access is allowed, the system will say: “On your return home!”. Upon leaving the hostel, she will ask the girls “to be beautiful.” The system also informs the university management if the student has not been to the hostel for more than 24 hours.

Formally, technology can not prohibit an unregistered person from entering the dormitory – she is not able to block the door or by any other means stop the offender. However, she takes pictures of all the people at the doorstep of the building and, in case of violation, sends his photo to the university guard.

Scanners in the cafe

Since January 2017, Baidu has been cooperating with the Beijing restaurants of the KFC fast food chain. The face recognition system built into the advertising screens is taught to offer food based on the age and mood of the visitor. An average 20-year-old man can offer fried potatoes, a hamburger with meat, chicken wings and soda, and a 50-year-old woman – porridge and soy milk.

A KFC employee demonstrates the operation of the face recognition system. Photo by Amy Hawkins, The Guardian
A KFC employee demonstrates the operation of the face recognition system. Photo by Amy Hawkins, The Guardian

Journalist of the British edition of The Guardian, Amy Hawkins checked the operation of the system and confirmed that the service produces results, based on the external qualities of the client, but sometimes incorrectly determines the age. If the proposed order does not suit the visitor, he can choose other options. In other words, the technology provides the client with a reduced version of the menu.

The system is being finalized, so it still badly remembers preferences. Now visitors rarely use devices, preferring to stand in line to cashiers, but Baidu expects to build more efficient technology in the future.

It is not known how Face ++ will have a future in the world, where people are increasingly worried about the intrusion into their privacy. May 10, 2017 in Oslo, a scandal broke out due to a similar face recognition service in a local pizzeria, which collected information about the taste preferences of the client.

Warning such scandals in China, the management of Baidu has assured that their technology will use the collected information only in order to improve the efficiency of service companies, and not to monitor customers.

“In China, you still do not have a private life,” said a visitor to the Beijing KFC, when a journalist from The Guardian asked her opinion about a possible shadowing.

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