Chinese subways are using AI facial recognition scanners to help detect whether people have coronavirus
- In Beijing, subway passengers are being screen en masse for symptoms of coronavirus by artificial technology and temperature scanners.
- Two Chinese tech companies have rolled out AI and infrared-scanning devices in the city.
- Beijing officials hope to control the spread of the virus as millions return to work after the Lunar New year holiday.
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In Beijing, subway passengers are being screened en masse for symptoms of coronavirus - but not by health authorities.
Instead, artificial intelligence is in charge.
The measures, implemented last week in several locations, came just days after the Beijing government started using infrared-imaging temperature scanners and handheld thermometers in all city subway stations.
Two Chinese AI giants, Megvii and Baidu, are behind the AI and temperature-scanning developments. They have implemented scanners to detect body temperature and send alerts to company workers if a person's body temperature is high enough to constitute a fever.
'Body detection, face detection, and infrared cameras'
In early February, Megvii initiated pilot programs in the Mudanyuan subway station, not far from the elite Peking University, and a nearby government administration building.
And days prior, Baidu rolled out temperature-scanners at a single subway station in the city.
Megvii and Baidu's roll-outs came shortly after the Beijing government established temperature-monitoring measures in all of the city's subway stations.
Megvii's AI system, which monitors as many as 16 checkpoints in a single station, can detect body temperatures for up to 15 people per second and at a distance of up to 5 metres.
According to a company representative, the system operates almost completely autonomously, requiring just one worker to monitor the technology.
The system "integrates body detection, face detection, and dual-sensing via infrared cameras and visible light," Megvii said in a statement.
"The system can accurately detect and flag high body temperature even when people are wearing masks, hats, or cover[ing] their faces with other items," the company added.
Baidu, one of the largest search-engine companies in China, screens subway passengers at the Qinghe station with infrared scanners. But it also uses a facial-recognition system, taking photographs of passengers' faces.
If the Baidu system detects a body temperature of at least 37.2 degrees centigrade, it sends an alert to the staff member for another screening. The technology can scan the temperatures of more than 200 people per minute.
Megvii's system also sends alerts to an on-site staff member.
Beijing is pressing to implement widespread temperature-tracking technology as millions of people return to work after the Lunar New Year holiday, hoping to control the spread of coronavirus.
Using data to stem a crisis
The latest corporate- and state-surveillance developments have prompted concerns from some, including the Council on Foreign Relations, a centrist think-tank in Washington, DC.
"The [coronavirus] epidemic has given the Chinese government an argument for acquiring and monitoring private-sector data. This has tied tech companies closer to the state and led to an increase in surveillance in the name of public health," according to two researchers with the organisation.
China's National Health Commission (NHC) recently told local governments to "use big data technology to track, screen priority [cases], and effectively forecast the development of the epidemic in real-time," Japan Times reported.
"Strengthen the information link between … public security and transportation, and other departments," the NHC statement added.
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