Reporter Journal / Chris Davis

Coming soon to a theater near you - artificial intelligence

(China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-07-26 10:23

In Minority Report, the 2002 Steven Spielberg sci-fi movie that takes place 50 years in the future, Tom Cruise plays an investigator with the "PreCrime" unit that collars "criminals" before they commit the crimes that three "precog" psychics predict they will soon commit.

Now, as the Financial Times reports, China is tasking artificial intelligence (AI) to do something similar.

"If we use our smart systems and smart facilities well, we can know beforehand ... who might be a terrorist, who might do something bad," Li Meng, vice-minister of science and technology, told the Times.

Cloud Walk, the facial recognition company, is helping police develop the AI capabilities. It is already testing a system that analyzes an individual's movements and behavior - especially visiting stores that sell weapons - and can alert police when the perceived crime risk enters the danger zone.

"Of course, if someone buys a kitchen knife that's OK, but if the person also buys a sack and a hammer later, that person is becoming suspicious," a company spokesman said.

"The police are using a big data rating system to rate highly suspicious groups of people based on where they go and what they do," the spokesman added.

The tsunami of data flowing in from ubiquitous smart phones and computers is making it possible to put supercomputers to work sifting and sorting and matching.

Cloud Walk's facial recognition powers along with the thousands of surveillance cameras can be used to crackdown on even the most minor offenses, such as spotting and identifying jaywalkers and shaming them.

Li Meng said the government's "crime prediction" technology also uses gait analysis and crowd analysis to detect suspicious patterns of behavior in crowds and single out thieves from among normal passengers on a train.

Another recent technological breakthrough is called "personal re-identification" or re-ID, which can match a person's identity from place to place and wearing different outfits.

"We can use re-ID to find people who look suspicious by walking back and forth in the same area, or who are wearing masks," said Leng Biao, a professor of bodily recognition at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "It is also possible to reassemble someone's trail across a large area."

China has just announced a massive new government investment in AI. The State Council said it intended to build an AI industry worth $150 billion and make AI a "new, important" driver of economic growth by 2020 and China the leader of the field by 2030.

"Artificial Intelligence has become the new focus of international competition," the State Council's report reads. "We must take the initiative to firmly grasp the next stage of AI development to create a new competitive advantage, open the development of new industries and improve the protection of national security."

The report also called for more AI professionals and scientists to be trained and for interdisciplinary research to link AI with subjects like psychology, mathematics and economics, as well as agriculture, medicine and manufacturing.

Last week the Pentagon said that within six months the US military will start using commercial AI algorithms to sift and sort its masses on intelligence data on the Islamic State.

In the most basic, simplified of terms, AI is sticking labels on things that go shooting by at the speed of light, masses and masses of mind-numbing data. And the Holy Grail of AI remains transparent, tested and retested, understandable algorithms that everyone can trust.

The handoff from human to machine and back again becomes the primary philosophical and ethical dynamic. Science fiction is rife with tales of when the machines take over.

Sure, a computer beat Lee Se-dol and Ke Jie at the ancient board game Go. But I keep going back to the classic scene in the first Star Wars movie, when pilot Luke Skywalker puts aside the computer-assist scope and uses his own "Force" instincts to take out the Death Star.

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