China leading the way in facial recognition sector
Endless queues and long waits at the ticket inspection desks at China's major train stations were signature of the Spring Festival travel rush before this year. Every year, as the country's biggest national holiday unfolded, a huge flow of travelers would leave staff at the check-in desks feeling swamped.
But with the installment of artificial intelligence (AI) in dozens of train stations this year, including a facial recognition system which is able to process passenger identification within five seconds and therefore speed up the waiting process, busy scenes started to become something of the past.
When a passenger approaches the camera inside the facial recognition system at the station, it scans their face and then quickly compares it to the photograph shown on their identification card in real time. If the information matches, the barrier gates will open and allow the passenger to go through.
Such use of facial recognition technology is in line with discussions heard at the recent two sessions meeting, a key annual political event, which focused on the widespread application of a security network named Tianwang ("Sky Net" in English) currently being used by China's public security department.
The network, according to reports by the People's Daily, has the potential to recognize the facial features of anyone in the world and match them on the spot with photographs on a database of criminal suspects. In fact, it can analyze photographic identity so quickly that it can scan every single Chinese face on the planet in just one second, and it would only take two seconds to scan every face in the world, with an accuracy rate of up to 99.8 percent.
Those are just two examples that highlight the development of Chinese visual AI technology, which industry insiders predict could contribute to robust growth in the global technology sector this year.
"The year 2018 will mark a fast-track year in facial recognition technology, whose speed of growth is likely to override other AI sectors including robotics, voice recognition and natural language processing," Yang Yuxin, the vice president of Beijing-based operating system provider Thundersoft Software Technology Co, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
An industry report published on news website sohu.com in March echoed Yang's prediction by summarizing the financing of China's AI start-ups and concluding that the computer vision and image analysis sector has been the "hottest" destination for domestic investors lately.
The sector has even topped the country's investment list with a financing amount of 14.3 billion yuan (.27 billion), representing 23 percent of the total funds flowing into the global AI industry.
One of the reasons behind the popularity of AI-powered visual technology is the wide range of scenarios in which it can be applied, making it easier for investors to "envision a bright business prospect and quickly capitalize on their investment," Yang explained.
Security is just one of many areas where visual technology is being applied. In addition to targeting consumers, AI start-ups have already started to tailor their visual technology services to domestic companies focused on such technology as unmanned vehicle-makers and manufacturing.
For example, Thundersoft has partnered with local factories to facilitate the application of AI visual technology in production lines so as to maintain quality control and supervise the production environment, Yang said. The move has helped manufacturers reduce labor costs and improve efficiency.
Lu Feng, an industry analyst at Beijing-based consultancy firm CCID Consulting, also underscored the trend of combing AI visual technology with 2018's emerging industries, for example, the new retail sector.