China Using ‘Emotion Recognition Technology’ to Arrest People

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China’s state-run Global Times boasted in an article on Thursday that Chinese people are increasingly becoming accustomed to the use of “emotion recognition technology,” artificial intelligence that allows the government to track human feelings, as part of everyday life.

The Global Times illustrated the usefulness of this technology with an example in which police arrest passengers of a car after using artificial intelligence to discover drugs in their car. “Emotion recognition technology” tells the officers that the passengers are more nervous than the average person at a checkpoint, which they use as an excuse to search the car.

The notoriously repressive Communist Party is allegedly applying “emotional recognition technology” in “various fields including health, anti-terrorism, and urban security,” according to the Global Times.

The development of this technology to criminalize feelings follows increasingly alarming developments in Chinese law enforcement, most recently the revelation that Chinese technology giant Huawei is developing facial recognition technology that can identify a person’s ethnicity, making it easier for Chinese police to persecute members of the Uyghur ethnic minority. Multiple governments around the world, including the current and past administration of the United States, have accused China of committing genocide against the Uyghur people.

The Communist Party has built over 1,000 concentration camps in the Uyghurs’ native region, Xinjiang, where survivors say they were forced into indoctrination, slavery, and subject to rape and torture. Of particular concern are reports that China is systematically sterilizing Uyghur women against their will to eliminate the ethnic group, a practice specifically listed in the definition of genocide.
The Communist Party claims that the concentration camps are “vocational training centers” for uneducated people and that all eyewitnesses are liars and paid actors.

The Global Times did not specifically mention using “emotion recognition technology” in Xinjiang, but did not that much of the experimentation with the medium appears to be conducted in China on inmates at prisons. At least six prisons are openly using this technology on its inmates to predict which are the most likely to be violent, the newspaper claimed.

As China considers any slight or criticism of the Communist Party a crime – often formally identified as “subversion of state power” or “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – many of those experimented on are likely political prisoners. It is also illegal in China to hold religious views outside of the regulation of the state, and only five religions are legal: Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity.

“[I]n China, emotion recognition has contributed to the risk assessment of prisoners in a few regional prisons,” the Global Times noted, citing experimentation in a prison in Guangzhou in 2019. “The technology helps prison officers to evaluate whether a prisoner presents potential risks, including possible mental problems and violent or suicidal tendencies, and estimate whether he or she is likely to repeat an offense after release.”

The state propaganda outlet quoted the head of the Guangzhou center conducting the experiments to justify its use, who detailed, “After a prisoner looks at the camera for three to four seconds, this recognition system can know his or her seven main physiological indexes including body temperature, eye movement, and heart rate, and convert them into psychological signs showing whether the prisoner is calm, depressed, angry or whatever else at that time.”

Outside of prisons, the state newspaper lauded “emotion recognition technology” for its uses on the road, where police can track the emotions of every driver and stop anyone with “abnormal” feelings. This, it claimed, would help prevent road rage incidents or other potentially criminal behavior.

The Global Times cited Chinese “experts” who claimed that Chinese AI could identify a person’s emotions with up to 95-percent accuracy.

“Emotion recognition is definitely the direction of humanity’s future tech development,” a “neuromanagement expert” told the newspaper.

The technology can work by either monitoring a person’s face for an extended period of time or by forcing individuals to wear devices that track their blood pressure, temperature, and other factors.

The Global Times mentioned that, outside of China, the public may express concerns for their privacy and safety in the event that their governments implement this form of AI to monitor their emotions. The Times claimed that the technology is already in use in several states, however, including America, and insisted, citing Chinese government-approved experts, that it is “not an evil ‘mind-reading’ technique.”

According to the MIT Technology Review, “emotion recognition technology” was already a $20 billion market in 2019.

“The technology is currently being used to assess job applicants and people suspected of crimes, and it’s being tested for further applications, such as in VR headsets to deduce gamers’ emotional states,” the outlet observed at the time, citing a study by AI Now. The study warned that the technology may be particularly problematic when being used across race and gender lines, as its conclusions could “amplify” discrimination.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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