Now, documents and interviews show that the authorities are also using a vast, secret system of advanced facial recognition technology to track and control the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority. It is the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling, experts said.
The facial recognition technology, which is integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras, looks exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review. The practice makes China a pioneer in applying next-generation technology to watch its people, potentially ushering in a new era of automated racism.
Yitu and its rivals have ambitions to expand overseas. Such a push could easily put ethnic profiling software in the hands of other governments, said Jonathan Frankle, an A.I. researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I don’t think it’s overblown to treat this as an existential threat to democracy,” Mr. Frankle said. “Once a country adopts a model in this heavy authoritarian mode, it’s using data to enforce thought and rules in a much more deep-seated fashion than might have been achievable 70 years ago in the Soviet Union. To that extent, this is an urgent crisis we are slowly sleepwalking our way into.”
Notice this image from the NYT story. It’s the newspaper’s translation of a page from the CloudWalk software website (in Chinese), suggesting one way its software can be used to control “sensitive peoples”:
It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine how this kind of technology can be used by the State. But what about the same technology in private hands? What if neighborhoods put up cameras that generated an alert if an unusual number of black people were spotted on its streets?
Or what if people who had previously been identified as being members of a church, or a political activist group, tripped the software by being tracked gathering in a particular place? If the software database has all the members of a particular church (or political group) that the government broke up logged as members of that church (or political group), and surveillance cameras happened to pick them up as all being on the same block at the same time, the software would alert the authorities, who could break up their gathering and arrest them.
The technology already exists, as we see. The only thing standing between us and it? The law, which is to say, politics. We have to organize against this. Who’s good on the issues, besides Rand Paul?