One Month, 500,000 Face Scans: How China Is Using A.I. to Profile a Minority

The Chinese government is using facial-recognition software to track Uighur Muslims in the country, signalling the incorporation of AI into the state’s persecution of the minority ethnic group.


The system is integrated with pre-existing security cameras and makes use of supervised machine learning to generate a function that can apparently distinguish Uighurs from non-Uighurs.


In contrast to debates around facial recognition in the West, where fears over unintended biases dominate, China has gone full steam ahead with intentionally racially profiling its citizens.


Luckily, there are doubts as to the reliability of the system, given the variation of lighting conditions and camera positions, furthermore many cameras in use are not powerful enough to be combined with the AI software effectively.

Added to these limitations, there is also the general objection that physiognomy, the practice of deducing one’s ethnicity from physical appearances, is not only controversial morally but not grounded in science. Nevertheless, the software is being increasingly used across various provinces in China.


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