Report: China Using A.I. Emotion-Detection Software on Uyghurs

Visitors look at AI (Artificial Inteligence) security cameras with facial recognition technology at the 14th China International Exhibition on Public Safety and Security at the China International Exhibition Center in Beijing on October 24, 2018. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities have installed camera systems in police stations across China’s westernmost territory, Xinjiang, that allegedly use artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition software to detect people’s emotional states, the BBC reported Wednesday.

A software engineer who “claimed to have installed such [AI] systems in police stations in the province” spoke to the BBC in an interview published May 26. He showed the broadcaster “five photographs of Uyghur detainees who he claimed had had the emotion recognition system tested on them.”

Human rights groups and foreign governments accuse Communist Party officials of operating state-run concentration camps in Xinjiang that have held 1 million-3 million members of the territory’s minority ethnic groups — Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and others — since about 2017. Roughly 12 million Uyghurs make up the largest minority group in Xinjiang. Uyghurs have been subjected to a massive security crackdown since about 2014 after Beijing accused the mainly Sunni Muslim group of perpetrating a series of terror attacks in the region in an effort to create a separate state. The Communist Party installed security cameras across Xinjiang in subsequent years as part of a continued effort to more closely monitor Uyghurs and their actions, which China claims may exhibit “extremist” and “separatist” tendencies.

“The Chinese government use[s] Uyghurs as test subjects for various experiments just like rats are used in laboratories,” the anonymous software engineer who allegedly installed emotion-detecting cameras in Xinjiang’s police stations told the BBC this week.

“We placed the emotion detection camera 3 m[eters] from the subject. It is similar to a lie detector but far more advanced technology,” the man said, adding that Xinjiang police officers use “restraint chairs” to detain Uyghurs during their facial scans. Such restraint chairs “are widely installed in police stations across China,” according to the engineer.

“Your wrists are locked in place by metal restraints, and [the] same applies to your ankles,” he said of the chairs.

The engineer “provided evidence of how the AI system is trained to detect and analyze even minute changes in facial expressions and skin pores,” according to the BBC.

The engineer said the software “creates a pie chart, with the red segment representing a negative or anxious state of mind.”

The software is intended for “pre-judgment without any credible evidence,” the man claimed.

The Chinese government installed facial recognition software that used AI to read a person’s emotional state in Xinjiang customs offices as early as 2019, according to the Financial Times (FT).

“Using video footage, emotion recognition technology can rapidly identify criminal suspects by analyzing their mental state to prevent illegal acts including terrorism and smuggling,” Li Xiaoyu, a Communist Party cadre from Xinjiang’s public security bureau in Altay city in the territory’s far north, told FT in a report published in late October 2019.

“We’ve already started using it,” Li said, adding, that the technology was “mostly deployed at customs” to identify “signs of aggressiveness and nervousness as well as stress levels and a person’s potential to attack others.”


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