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China is now using AI gait technology to identify citizens, recording how you walk

IoT traffic camera. (Intel Free Press/Flickr)
November 16, 2018

A Chinese firm has developed technology to identify people based on how they walk, and cities in China are now implementing it.

The new “gait recognition” technology observes patterns in people’s body shapes and how they walk, using the combination to identify them even without seeing their face, ABC News recently reported.

Beijing and Shanghai have already implemented the technology, granting police an improved method of identifying suspects in crowds or carrying out video-captured crimes.

It was developed by Watrix Technology, a top artificial intelligence company in China that specializes in computer and video data analysis. Last month, the company announced it had raised $14.5 million to speed up the development of the technology and bring it to market.

Huang Yongzhen, the CEO of Watrix, said the system even works if the person is turned away from the camera.

“You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity,” Huang said. “Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

The software uses a sequence of images to identify a person’s shape, then builds a model based on the shape. Huang hopes to see the software used in conjunction with facial recognition software.

“People still don’t recognize they can be recognized by their gait, whereas everybody knows you can be recognized by your face,” said Mark Nixon, a gait recognition expert at Britain’s University of Southampton. “We believe you are totally unique in the way you walk.”

The technology can also identify people up to 50 meters (164 feet) away. It can’t yet identify people in real time, but it’s capable of analyzing an hour of footage in just 10 minutes, and has a 94-percent accuracy rate.

“Using biometric recognition to maintain social stability and manage society is an unstoppable trend,” said Shi Shusi, a columnist and commentator in China. “It’s great business.”

China has been aggressively pursuing AI and recognition technologies as a part of their “Golden Shield Project,” a nationwide surveillance platform, The Telegraph has reported.

Huang said the software can also be used to promote safety by identifying people in distress, although it does not appear to be used for that purpose thus far.

Gait recognition technology has been in development for more than a decade, but it has not yet been commercialized due to skepticism and the computer power required to run such a software.

Critics are concerned about what the technology means for human rights and privacy.

Sophie Richardson, the China-based director for Human Rights Watch, said, “States have an obligation to provide their citizens with public security, but not at the expense of fundamental human rights.”

“Much of this technology gathers information about people without their knowledge and consent,” she added. “They have no way of knowing until it’s somehow being used against them. There is no effective way of pushing back against that.”