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Tech Thursday: Episode 11

Beer-baited trap and facial recognition nabs criminals, Google and AI in China, Tencent and flying taxis, and a kid named after an app

Each Thursday, The World of Chinese takes the most ground-breaking, impressive, or just plain weird technological advancements related to the Middle Kingdom and serves them in bite-sized chunks to keep you up-to-date on the latest news in the world of Chinese technology.

Facial recognition… everywhere!

Three separate headlines on facial recognition technology in China this week, and the prize for the most Orwellian easily went to a cybertrap in Qingdao, baited with beer.

Scanning technology was used at entrances to the Qingdao International Beer Festival, monitoring people entering and leaving. The technology then compared the scans against a database of known criminals: 25 wanted fugitives were caught, with one having been on the run for ten years. Another 19 were recognized as having records for drug use, and were detained “tested positive…and were subsequently arrested, as were five people with previous convictions for theft who were found to have stolen phones and other items at the event.”

KFC and Alibaba meanwhile jointly launched a scheme were people can purchase fast food by smiling at a scanner. No smartphone is necessary, but users must have an Alipay account with facial recognition enabled. The services offers the option of a confirmation step that uses your phone number for secure verification. The scheme is currently being rolled out in Huangzhou, not far from Alibaba’s head of operations; Alibaba is an investor in Yum China, owner of the KFC brand in China.

Finally, students at Beijing Normal University are now being allowed into dormitories via face scans. Despite the Global Times report on “face recognition” technology, it would seem the greater achievement is in the voice recognition system. The machine can recognize a wide variety of Chinese dialects, something that other voice-recognition technologies have struggled with.

Taxis might fly

Chinese internet giant Tencent (parent company of ubiquitous messaging/payment app WeChat) has invested in a German startup that is developing flying five-seat taxis.

The startup, Lilium, specializes in virtual takeoff and landing. Tencent led the most recent round of investment, which totaled $90 million, though the actual figure Tencent invested was not mentioned in the China Daily report. Lilium is still a relatively small startup, but has attracted keen interest throughout Europe.

Google seeks out Chinese AI talent

Google has been at loggerheads with the Chinese government ever since it pulled out of the country in 2010, after refusing to assist in censorship requests. But in recent years, there have been various attempts at limited reconciliation and the company is now on the lookout to hire machine-learning experts in Beijing.

Given that many of China’s biggest AI developers, such as Baidu, have offices in Silicon Valley, perhaps it’s unsurprising that Google is also attempting trans-Pacific development arrangements.

Honor of Names

And we leave you with news that in Shaanxi, a mother has named her son “King of Glory” after the popular gaming app. Police said they couldn’t really do anything about it, because the name itself is not offensive. But regulators have previously accused the game of “poisoning” the minds of youth for its addictive nature. Looks like the parents aren’t immune, either.


Cover image from Sohu


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