The Artifact Itself
In the country where technology cannot be stopped as it rapidly advances from one breakthrough to the next, China is now the motherland of yet another technologically advanced product. This product is more of a system, which uses facial recognition technology to execute everyday human activities, like financial transactions, access to facilities and buildings and can even identify and track down criminals. MIT’s Technological Review publication named this advancement as one of the top 10 technological breakthroughs of 2017 and major companies like Face++, Baidu (which is China’s main and most popular search engine on the internet), fast food chains like KFC, Chinese airline companies and even the local Chinese government, use this software to facilitated China’s extremely fast-passed lifestyle.
Face ++, the company that provides all the main software has its own tricks up its sleeves installed in the offices. Of course, having your face saved in a company’s facial recognition database can have both its advantages and its disadvantages. This software tracks 83 different key points on your face and makes your face basically the key to everything in the world of Face++; you can get immediate access to the building, but you can also track your movements and see your face being tracked down on different screens as you move from one room to the next. Face ++’s technology can be also found on several apps like Alipay, a mobile payment app where the only thing you need is your face to validate and authorize the payment or transaction. China’s biggest car booking service, Didi, also uses the software developed at Face++ to ensure their passengers that the person driving the car is an actual driver and even historic destinations use it instead of tickets.
As Finn Ed mentions in his piece What Algorithms Want (2017), “the vital element in Siri’s effectiveness as a culture machine is the achievement of a minimum viable threshold for speedy, topical responses to questions.” (Finn, 2017); similarly to Siri, I agree that facial recognition software is greatly effective when it comes to providing to this market; fast passed results, methods to shop, stay safe and cruise quickly from one place to the next. However, Finn also discusses the idea that big data and algorithms “depend on a deep well, a cistern of human attention and input” (Finn, 2017) and humans still need to be on top of things as we make them evolve. Technology is constantly improving and only recently have we managed to make facial recognition precise enough in order to completely secure financial transactions. This type of technology definitely offers the more secure and safe way people are looking for but how private is it really? How does the system know on its own? How does the building of Face++ know when a person has been restricted from entering or is no longer allowed in the building? Does someone have to manually add “unwanted” or “expired” names in the system?
Another dubbed useful application of this software is tracking down suspected criminals. The combination of China having a “large centralized database of ID card photos” (Knight, 2017) and with the facial recognition market in China being really big, the Chinese government has a great advantage on its hands. The even greater advantages come for the companies that are working on surveillance technology as “’in China security is very important, and [there are] also lots of people’” (Knight, 2017). The new software uses something called “deep learning”, basically an AI approach that specializes in image recognition as it makes the computer focus specifically and primarily on a person’s most prominent and recognizable key features which is the most dependable way to identify someone. Yet again, technology can have its disadvantages as one can argue that this product is only a focus and advancement in China because of how great of a market it is for such a product; tons of interested people and a very large and strict photo database to start off with. So maybe this is more of a cultural advancement? Finally, sometimes the “analyzed footage can be far from perfect, and […] mug shots or other images on file may be several years old” (Knight, 2017) and can either be not trusty worthy enough or end up wrongfully accusing someone.
A recent article from the Guardian states the people’s concerns for what this facial recognition technology can do and how it can affect their privacy and their civil rights is definitely there yet, the Chinese government continues to use this type of software. Escalating to other places like historical attraction sites so people will not steal even toilet paper and the Southern Chinese Airlines use for the very first time facial recognition instead of passports. But can that be too risky? The Guardian article also mentions the fact that other countries like the UK and the US have used facial recognition software but their actions can easily be discriminatory and can even be accessed by the FBI without anyone’s permission.