China is attempting to predict potential crimes using artificial intelligence (AI), employing the technology to monitor the emotional state of its citizens, the Financial Times reported.

Why it matters: China is the world’s largest surveillance market and is home to some of the world’s biggest equipment makers.

  • Several prominent Chinese AI firms were last month added to a US trade blacklist for their alleged complicity in Beijing’s human rights violations in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
  • The blacklisting comprised a number of the country’s “AI Champions,” including Sensetime and Yitu, speech recognition firm iFlytek, and surveillance camera maker Hikvision.

“Using video footage, emotion recognition can rapidly identify criminal suspects by analyzing their mental state… to prevent illegal acts including terrorism and smuggling.”

—Li Xiaoyu, policing expert and party cadre from Xinjiang, cited by FT

Details: Emotion recognition was a hot topic at this year’s China Public Security Expo, the country’s biggest surveillance fair.

  • Companies including Hikvision, search giant Baidu, and Huawei were among the 1,500 exhibitors.
  • Emotion recognition is mostly being deployed at Chinese customs, where it is used to identify signs of nervousness, aggression, and the likelihood of attacking others.
  • China is not the only country testing out emotion recognition capabilities, as companies including Google and Microsoft are also working on the technology.
  • Nonetheless, experts say in its current state, the technology doesn’t work very well. “This technology is still a bit of a gimmick,” FT cited a popular Chinese tech blogger as saying.

Context: China’s surveillance capabilities have expanded rapidly over the past few years, with a focus on domestic stability.

  • Eight of the ten most surveilled cities in the world are in China, according to a report by Comparitech, which provides resources for comparing tech services.
  • The southwestern city of Chongqing came in at number one, with around 168 cameras per 1,000 people.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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