How is China's artificial intelligence developing?

China Artificial intelligence as a national goal

China's world of artificial intelligence at prime time: Ji zhi guo ren is the name of a game show on Chinese state television. Translated: "The machine is smarter than the human". New technologies from the field of artificial intelligence compete against humans.

One task: identify people. Male quadruplets dance with female quadruplets - the pairs of siblings look identical and wear exactly the same clothes. Who can better distinguish the couples from one another: the intelligent camera or the person?

The camera recognizes the corridor

The camera is clearly ahead of the game and can assign the pairs flawlessly at any time. With the help of recognition software from the Beijing company Watrix.

The camera assigns people by recognizing their walk. The system can identify people and animals at distances of up to 50 meters and is more accurate and efficient than face recognition. Watrix is ​​one of the most important start-ups in China in the field of artificial intelligence - AI for short.

The company is at home in one of the countless and faceless Beijing skyscrapers. The offices are painted white, the desks gleam white. The atmosphere seems tidy and focused. Watrix's founder is called Huang Yongzhen and is 35 years old.

"As far as I know, there are around 20 teams around the world doing research in the field of gait detection. But so far nobody has really commercialized it and put it into widespread use."

More precisely than facial recognition: The software from Watrix recognizes people by their gait (picture alliance / Mark Schiefelbein)

And that's exactly where Watrix wants to be at the fore. A few steps in front of the camera are enough and the camera system has recorded a person. The police in Beijing, Shanghai and also in the Uyghur region of Xinjiang are already using Watrix's gait detection system, says company boss Huang:

"The investigative authorities in Shanghai use the system to register and search for suspects or criminals. Some hospitals also cooperate with us. We are jointly researching whether and how the risk of falling older people can be assessed and predicted. This includes the major manufacturers of household appliances use our system so that the devices can recognize family members. "

It is easy to quench your hunger for data in China

The entry to the smart home or the operation of household devices only works if the recognition system has successfully checked the legitimacy of a person. What was science fiction yesterday is reality today: the face or the corridor as a substitute for ID and door openers. The hunt for criminals with the help of gait or face recognition. There is a high level of acceptance for the use of these new technologies in China, says Watrix founder Huang Yongzhen.

"In the West, there is greater protection of your own data and privacy. This is due to the culture and has a lot to do with habit. The people there want their data to belong only to them as far as possible. In China, the culture or the opinion about it is a slightly different one. The Chinese want to try out new technologies if they can make their lives more convenient and safer.

And one of the reasons why AI startups like Watrix are growing and developing so rapidly in China. Products can be used here quickly and easily, confirms Hans Uszkoreit, Scientific Director of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). He is responsible for the cooperation with China and has therefore lived and worked in Beijing for two years. From his office on the 11th floor, he looks out over the wide ring roads of the Chinese capital.

"Of course it is the case that in China applications that draw conclusions from camera images are much more widespread. The cameras are used everywhere to secure buildings, to detect or detect traffic violations, for security. In China, the camera density is definitely many times over from the one we have in the US. And again a multiple of what we have in Europe and Germany. That means that certain technologies are of course much easier to find their markets here. "

In the summer of 2017, China's head of state and party leader Xi Jinping announced that he wanted to turn China into an AI superpower. Technical progress has been running at full speed ever since. Also because the collection and analysis of the data is easier than in the USA or Europe. Chinese companies can work with a huge amount of data. These, in turn, are a kind of rocket fuel for the further development of artificial intelligence. China benefits from this and has therefore also gained a head start in the application of AI technologies, says German AI researcher Uszkoreit.

"If one assumes that the neural networks are hungry for data, that is, in the possibility of more data from even more faces, even more movement sequences, to achieve even better recognition, then China is of course the place where this hunger is felt The best that can satisfy. This is of course a good thing for AI, for Artificial Intelligence. AI is extremely data hungry and in China there are good opportunities to satisfy this hunger. "

Nothing goes unnoticed - even at school

In China, AI technologies are also becoming more and more popular in everyday life: schools, for example, are trying to reinvent themselves with the use of artificial intelligence. For example, high school number eleven. It is located in Hangzhou, a metropolis of millions in southern China, around 1,300 kilometers from Beijing.

No money, no food stamps, no cafeteria card: when 16-year-old Meng Jinyang goes to the school canteen for lunch, her face is enough. In school uniform with a blue skirt and white blouse, she stands in front of an upright monitor for a few seconds. Your face will be scanned and your lunch menu will be prepared.

"We used to have the cafeteria card with us, but now and then we forget it. Now it works with face recognition, which is much more convenient. The face is scanned, and then there is food. The system knows what we are for thanks to face recognition ordered today. "

The menu orders are saved for everyone. The students have to choose their meal for the coming week by Friday. The system generates data on the subject of nutrition, explains teacher Zhu Zhiyao.

"After each order, the data is collected. After a while we can draw conclusions from this, and the parents also receive the information. We can then see how many proteins, carbohydrates and fried food the children ate per month. We receive a nutrition report . "

And the computer then spits out suggestions for nutritional optimization. If you spoil yourself with too much sweet desserts or drinks, you will immediately notice. Hardly anything goes unnoticed at number eleven high school in Hangzhou. If someone arrives in the schoolyard too late in the morning, teacher Zhu is informed immediately by a short message on her smartphone.

"If someone comes later, the main entrance is closed. Then the students have to enter through a facial recognition system. And we teachers can then immediately see on the school's Wechat account who is late today."

Omnipresent - and accepted: surveillance cameras in Hangzhou City (picture alliance / Shan He)

Smart cameras are already hanging in the classrooms of the Hangzhou High School. You can capture the behavior of every single student in the classroom, collect data and analyze it. The learning behavior in the eye of the camera. 16-year-old Meng Jinyang already knows this.

"Face recognition has already been used in the classroom. Our facial expressions during class can be evaluated in this way. And the school then knows how well we are concentrating in class. We receive tips if we weren't paying attention. In order to then work harder in the future . We should improve especially in those subjects that we don't really feel like doing. "

Smart campus - constantly monitored by cameras

If you sit in the office of the second headmaster Zhang Guanchao, you can feel his enthusiasm for the topic of artificial intelligence. Zhang is convinced that Artificial Intelligence is coming into the classroom and analyzing student behavior. Just like his school has already tried, even if the experiment is currently on hold.

"It is a kind of active management system for what we call the 'intelligent classroom'. Certain behaviors and facial expressions of the students give an indication of achievement and concentration in the classroom. Our system is still in the development phase and there has been quite a bit of controversy. when we tried it. That's why we just suspended it, but we're still working on it! "

Monitoring and evaluating student behavior in class has even sparked criticism in the Chinese state media. Some parents were also skeptical. But it is only a matter of time before the software platform will be used again in the classroom, says school principal Zhang Guanchao. With his school he would like to be a pioneer throughout China.

"We are the leading school in China when it comes to Smart Campus. We have the first beverage vending machine in the country that works with facial recognition. Our library vending machine for borrowing books also works this way and is the first of its kind. These products doesn't even exist on the market yet. We are working on building the intelligent school of the future. Our Smart Campus will show people what it looks like. "

The park-like campus, the spacious sports facilities, everything looks idyllic. But there is hardly anything here that is not monitored, controlled and analyzed by cameras. Books can also be borrowed using facial recognition. Teacher Zhu Zhiyao shows the bookcase in a hallway of the school. Hundreds of glass lockers are lined up here.

"Here, the students can borrow books using facial recognition. First select the books and then simply look into the camera. We collect the data and then we know who has borrowed which and how many books. The library can then better suit the interests of the students buy the books. "

For students like Meng Jinyang and her friend Huang Siyu, the technology at their school is nothing special anymore. You got used to it.

"We're still in school, we should keep learning as the main task. On the one hand, it creates a certain sense of supervision, but on the other hand, it also helps us. The advantages are greater than the disadvantages.

"This helps the school to offer personalized training. The school offers food and books according to our interests. That doesn't bother us, it helps us. The camera plays a kind of supervisory role and functions as a warning sign. It helps us to control ourselves The camera really doesn't bother us. "

Cameras, chips and thus also surveillance and control: the willingness in China to allow all of this is high, says the AI ​​researcher Hans Uszkoreit, who lives in Beijing.

"Of course it plays a big role that China has more control because of population density, history, political system, that is clear to everyone. But that's not just it. It's also a different culture. The people are very, very pragmatic and very, very safety conscious. And they don't mind that much. They are seen by thousands of others every day when they walk the streets anyway. And if there are a few cameras and they see a few more, they don't care a lot. Even if you let the people vote - this is not just a government edict - they would vote for the cameras. "

Baidu is fully committed to a future with AI

Whether the Chinese state, large technology companies or smaller AI startups: they all try to get people excited about the new technologies and the use of artificial intelligence.

Baidu, the Chinese Google, relies on automated driving - and advertises with national film stars (picture alliance / Luo Wei)

Beijing has also been promoting the topic of artificial intelligence since the end of 2018. The Haidian Park in the west of the city has been converted for this purpose: the completely normal city park, with lots of greenery, small bridges, pavilions and hiking trails, has become a digital amusement park of the future.

Even those who enter the park can get on autonomous buses. The minibuses roll slowly along the cobbled paths. The comparatively calm traffic situation in the park is well suited for testing autonomous vehicles, explains Fu Duanling, project manager for the artificial intelligence park.
"This is the world's first autonomously driving L4 - Level 4 minibus. There is no steering wheel in the interior, normally 14 passengers can fit in here."

Fu Duanling works for Baidu, a kind of Chinese Google. For the future, the company is relying fully on artificial intelligence and automated driving. The buses that are in the park are part of the so-called Apollo program, in which Baidu is cooperating with Daimler, among others.

There is a huge screen along the bus route: If you get off here, you can practice Tai Chi in a virtual room with the famous Tai Chi Professor Wu Dong from Beijing Sports University.

"This is the tai-chi master in virtual reality. You can stand here in the middle and practice tai-chi with the master as if he were standing in front of you. An application from the field of artificial intelligence from Baidu. The master recognizes your body movements and analyzes how close you are to the optimal movement. In the end, the result comes. "

Visitors to the park can register themselves at the entrance using face recognition. This has the advantage that as a jogger you can use an intelligent fitness track. After each lap through the park, the latest information is provided: speed, calorie consumption, time per lap.

But there is also a place to slow down in the park: behind trees and flowers there is a picturesque wooden pavilion where you can relax. Only if you look closely will you discover the digital assistant named Xiao Du hidden high up in the beams.

When asked whether he knows the German Chancellor, he starts. The digital assistant gives a detailed account of Angela Merkel's career.

If you don't care, the digital assistant Xiao Du can of course also play communist revolutionary songs. Ideological fodder on the park bench.

"No new China without the Communist Party," it says.

A key to the political system

China is practicing in Haidan Park for the new revolution in artificial intelligence. It's about convincing that the world can be more beautiful and simpler with artificial intelligence. Because if the People's Republic wants to become an AI superpower by 2030, it needs the greatest possible support for the new technologies. The Chinese provinces are virtually in competition to see who will invest the most in this future. There is hardly a province in China that has not established an AI park and is specifically trying to attract companies. Artificial intelligence as a national goal.

Warnings, especially from Western countries, that artificial intelligence is ideally suited to cement authoritarian rule, have so far not done any harm. Concerns are also not discussed publicly.

The Chinese government is already using the new AI technologies to better control and sanction its citizens. Also to collect data for a gigantic social credit system that is being set up in China. A point system of an authoritarian state that sanctions the desirable and undesirable behavior of its citizens.

It is to be introduced nationwide as far as possible from 2020. Much of what people do or don't do in everyday life can then influence their own assessment; more than 40 pilot projects are already running. To keep China's authoritarian regime stable and to make authoritarian rule more efficient in the spirit of the Communist Party, Artificial Intelligence is definitely a key.