China ‘City Brain’ A.I. Tracks Every Movement of Citizens, Looks to Be Used in Other Countries

29th June 1965: A poster with the famous words 'Big Brother is Watching You' from a BBC TV production of George Orwell's classic novel '1984'.
Larry Ellis/Express/Getty

The over 9 million citizens of Hangzhou, China, have been under constant surveillance by artificial intelligence since October 2016.

The Orwellian “City Brain” allegedly seeks to make life in Hangzhou easier by tracking traffic, crime, commutes, purchases, interactions, general movements, and more. Residents were tracked both generally and specifically, with City Brain even plugged into local social media. It even uses their cell phones.

A year later, rush hour traffic is down. So are crime and car accidents. City Brain notifies authorities if a car is illegally parked and makes tracking criminals almost trivial. It adjusts traffic light patterns to reduce congestion in the streets and will contact individual commuters to offer detours and weather advisories.

Alibaba AI Manager Xian-Sheng Hua credits the lack of concern from the Chinese people for the project’s success. In early October 2017 at the World Summit AI conference, he said that “in China, people have less concern with privacy, which allows us to move faster.”

The AI nanny is so effective that it is drawing praise despite objectively disturbing privacy implications. With its success, Alibaba plans to implement it in other Chinese cities — and from there, to package it for international use. It represents an easy fix for bureaucrats looking to save money on managing a bustling metropolis… at the cost of any modicum of privacy.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.


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