Daily Drip

This Week in Facial Recognition in China: Hospitals, Airport Check-Ins


Another week, another bunch of headlines about facial recognition in China. Where these latest developments sit on the spectrum between representing a head-long rush into a dystopian future and time and labor saving technological advances that will make all our lives that much better really depends upon your world view, but here’s what we’ve got for you.

First up, Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai has introduced “automated clearance systems” featuring facial recognition technology for passengers who want to skip any pesky conversations with check-in counter clerks. The airport has had automatic passport readers for some time now, but the new clearance systems mean you can check-in, drop your baggage, go through security, and board the plane without speaking to another human being if you so choose.

Sounds like it could be pretty convenient if it all works and people understand it. From our experience with these kinds of new technologies and busy transport hubs, there’ll likely be significant queues and lots of smiling assistants on hand to help you through the processes, thus negating the automation part of the operation. Even now at most railway stations there are staff on hand to put your paper ticket into the automatic ticket scanning machine.


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Still, State media are naturally touting the time-saving benefits (link in Chinese) of the new system — which so far is just being trialled at Hongqiao’s terminal 1 (mostly used for domestic flights). Queues for check-in were reportedly cut in half following the system’s introduction, while passengers travelling with only hand luggage can supposedly finish their check-in processes within 15 seconds.

Meanwhile, a little further south in Hangzhou, Alibaba’s health wing is bringing a whole new meaning to “the doctor will see you now” by linking up with local medical authorities to provide a “full process facial recognition medical consultancy” (link in Chinese). That’s a slightly misleading name as the process still involves an actual doctor — the facial recognition machines aren’t delivering the diagnosis, yet.


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Instead the system is more involved with identification and registration of, and extracting money from, patients. The idea is for the facial recognition systems installed in Hangzhou to save users from having to swipe a card to bring up their health insurance details and medical record. The system is automatically linked to Alipay, meaning they can process any fees related to their visit within a few seconds as well.

So whether its being used to board a plane, have you pay for healthcare, or nab criminals at beer festivals, it certainly doesn’t look like facial recognition’s increasing penetration of our lives is going away any time soon.

Photo: Zhejiang News


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RADII (rā'dē-ī') is an independent platform of artists, writers and creators dedicated to sharing vibrant stories from the rarely explored sides of new China.

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