The last time I took a flight to China would have been in 2011, when I went traveling around the world with my fiancé (now wife) at the time.
I remember scanning my ticket at one of their international airports, trying to find the button for ‘English’.
A lot has changed since then. Now, apparently all you need to do is stand in front of a kiosk, it will scan your face and automatically populate your flight plans!
No need to input anything. Just instantaneous facial recognition.
While I see the convenience, I must admit…it’s also a little bizarre.
But perhaps I’m just a bit put off by China’s reputation as an authoritative ‘Big Brother’ state. I mean, look at the facts…
China’s dystopian nightmare
Here’s a nation with over 300 million AI-powered surveillance cameras. A nation that has recently decided to use facial recognition technology to ration your toilet paper after it found some citizens had been using too much!
No seriously, that’s a thing. Public restrooms are demanding you accept a 90cm ration, no questions asked.
And this is a nation that even monitors you from the skies, if its ‘spy bird’ drones are anything to go by.
That’s not even the end of it. Some of the stuff I’ve been reading…it honestly boggles the mind. And we thought Facebook impinged on our privacy!
I’d still return to China in a heartbeat. It’s an awesome country. But its high-tech developments can quickly go from feeling impressive to intrusive.
In China, police officers are practically real-life terminators! Check out this policewoman whose sunglasses have been integrated with facial recognition technology.
But soon, facial recognition technology will be used in airports in the US. More nations around the world are seeing the potential benefits in other applications as well.
Think this is just a reality in the East? Think again.
Microsoft’s links to China
Interestingly enough, the first semi-automatic facial recognition system was actually created by a contractor to the US government.
And most of the bigger creators today reside in Silicon Valley, the West’s elite tech mecca. To most of them, I’d warrant technology represents freedom and innovation.
But to our neighbours in the East, this same technology could represent something very different…in fact, potentially the far opposite.
Because it’s one thing unlocking your iPhone XS with a brief face scan. It’s another handing this information over to the state.
Luckily, many of us agree and have taken our concerns direct to the source:
Microsoft. Amazon. The big guns.
And perhaps, they’re finally listening.
According to a Reuters report, Microsoft just turned down a request from law enforcement in California to use its facial recognition technology in police body cameras and cars.
But the company’s still in hot water due to its links to China. The fact that China’s using its facial recognition technology to specifically monitor the Uyghur Muslim minority isn’t sitting so well with Americans.
US politician Marco Rubio accuses Microsoft and other major companies who research AI as facilitating these human rights breaches.
And Amazon’s not in the clear either. Its Rekognition facial-recognition software has notably been used by national law enforcement agencies.
As a result, the company was recently asked by its employees and shareholders to stop selling the tech to these agencies, due to the potential for abuse.
So where does Australia fit into all of this?
The Northern Territory just got hi-tech
Facial recognition technology isn’t all doom and gloom.
It could have the potential to make bank transactions more secure, stop terrorism in its tracks and even help us to build more efficient ‘smart cities’.
And one Australian city wants to get working on it:
None other than Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Darwin council is currently getting schooled by Taiwan as part of a global smart city committee, dedicated to looking at how AI could transform our metropolitan environments.
Our darling city in the north, in an ambitious $10 million bid, wants to become a world leader in the field.
So what’s been discussed? Among the topics, facial recognition technology and surveillance. But no need to pick up and run for the hills this moment…
The type of surveillance the council are looking at includes ‘virtual fences’, vehicle sensors, and other pretty cool stuff. So, nothing too 1984…yet.
It’s a hot topic right now. And it’s unlikely we’ll let anything too untoward slide.
Tech companies that prioritise citizen privacy over government surveillance are likely to garner the most support from everyday investors…
Companies whose technologies will actually make our lives easier and our cities smarter to navigate.
Done well, this could open up a world of opportunity in the markets.
But let’s keep an eye on this space just in case! Because I’d like to steer clear of Big Brother’s watchful eye if I can…