Upgraded AI surveillance helps nab student suspected in mother’s murder

(Image credit: Bigstock/AndreyPopov)

A star student from a China’s top university who is suspected of killing his mother was detained by police at a Chongqing airport on April 20 after being identified by surveillance equipment using facial recognition technology, reported Chinese media on Saturday.

A former economics student at the renowned Peking University, 25-year-old Wu Xieyu had been in hiding for more than three years using a number of fake IDs. At the time of the arrest, Wu was seeing two friends off at the airport. Fewer than 10 minutes after he appeared at the airport, the police approached him, The Paper reported, citing one of Wu’s friends.

The capture comes half a year after the Chongqing airport significantly upgraded its surveillance system to include facial recognition technology provided by artificial intelligence (AI) startup Cloudwalk. According to an announcement released in September, the updated system communicates in real time with a police database, and sends warnings immediately following an identification. A Cloudwalk spokesman declined to comment when contacted by TechNode on Sunday.

In a report (in Chinese) from media outlet QbitAI in December 2017, Cloudwalk spokesman Lan Tianyi said its AI security system had helped the Chongqing police capture “hundreds of suspects.” The company also said that it won contracts from more than 60 airports in major Chinese cities, including Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, and Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, both in central China.

Founded by Zhou Xi, who holds a doctorate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and was formerly a researcher at Microsoft and NEC, Cloudwalk is one of the four computer vision (CV) unicorns, according to Chinese media, alongside Megvii, Sensetime, and Yitu. It has raised four rounds of funding totaling RMB 3.5 billion (around $520 million) so far, mostly from domestic funds with links to the government. Apart from supplying equipment for public security, Cloudwalk has supplied more than 88,000 branches of 400 Chinese banks with its facial recognition systems.

China reportedly plans to shore up its public surveillance system by increasing the total number of installed cameras to 626 million by 2020, more than triple the 176 million units in 2016, according to research by IHS Markit. The initiative is part of a broader push to deploy a comprehensive 24-hour surveillance network across the entire country by 2020, including small villages and rural areas, according to Xinhua news outlet citing a government report.

Chinese companies, including traditional equipment makers and new technology AI solution providers, are riding the wave. Hikvision, the country’s largest supplier of surveillance cameras and facial recognition systems, said that around around 30% of its product and system sales in 2018 were for public security purposes on public transportation, urban safety, and other security uses, according to the company. The Hangzhou-based surveillance equipment manufacturer launched its AI cloud data platform offering computing storage, intelligent algorithm, and software services, to compete head-on with high-profile AI unicorns.

More than 80 individuals suspected of crimes including theft, fraud, and drug trafficking were nabbed from Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung’s concerts over the past year, reported state-owned publication Legal Daily.

Chinese surveillance system makers are increasingly facing criticism for selling their products to authoritarian governments in South America and Africa, over concern that the technology will be used to further political agendas rather than strictly for public security.