AI Walks You Out of Your Privacy

The gait is not a catwalk privilege anymore but a controversial privacy breaker, helping artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and thus to control you. Chinese authorities have started using a new surveillance tool: “gait recognition” software which uses people’s body shapes and the way they walk in order to identify them.

Faceless, Fotografiska, Stockholm. 2018

According to Huang Yongzhen, the CEO of Watrix, the system can identify people from up to 50 meters away, even with their back turned or face covered. This can fill a gap in facial recognition, which needs close-up, high-resolution images of a person’s face to work. The AI-tool is already used by police on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, what really raises concern about how far the technology will go in developing artificial-intelligence and data-driven surveillance.

The gait is not a catwalk privilege anymore but a controversial privacy breaker, helping AI to identify and thus to control you.

Furthermore, there is no need for people’s cooperation to be able to recognize their identity. And gait analysis cannot either be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because the analysis is holistic, embracing all the features of an entire body. The software extracts a person’s silhouette from video and analyses the silhouette’s movement to create a model of the way the person walks.

Trondheim, Oslo. 2018

However, it is not capable of identifying people in real-time yet. Users must upload video into the program, which takes about 10 minutes to search through an hour of video. It doesn’t require special cameras — the software can use footage from surveillance cameras to analyse gait.

Furthermore, there is no need for people’s cooperation to be able to recognize their identity.

Nevertheless, the software is not as good as facial recognition, but its 94 percent accuracy rate is considered to be satisfactory for commercial use. The technology is not new but only few tried to commercialise gait recognition. According to Chinese media reports, Watrix announced last month that it had raised 100 million yuan ($14.5 million) to accelerate the development and sale of its gait recognition technology.

Thus, using biometric recognition to maintain social stability and manage society seems to be an unstoppable trend in the Chinese society, what certainly will also affect the rest of the world and the fashion industry as such. Soon your local H&M and the fancy Prada boutique down town will know about you as much as your best friend since high school. The question is how they will use the collected information. Is it a war against citizens’ privacy that we are experiencing?

Traitor, Georgii & Vladimir Stenberg, 1929.

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