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You can now board the subway in China’s Harbin with a face scan, even if you’re wearing a mask

The AI tech, which can identify people wearing a mask, is the first time in China that such a system has been used on subways in the country.

via SCMP

It can be stressful in the morning, scrambling to find your transport card or phone as you rush to work via the subway.

For citizens in Harbin, the capital city of China’s northeastern Heilongjiang province, there is now a new option though—they can quickly scan their face at the subway gate to pay and board the train.

Provided they have pre-registered with an app called “zhihuixing”, which roughly translates to “smart and convenient travel” in English, and linked it to a relevant payment method, citizens can jump aboard after a quick face scan—and the AI software can even cope with people wearing a mask.

The system, co-developed by Chengdu-based smart transport company Zhiyuanhui and China’s AI champion Sense Time, is the first time that such a system has been used on subways in the country, according to an article posted on the city’s government website on Thursday.

Prior to the recent pandemic, other cities such as Xian in central China, have rolled out facial recognition in their subways—but not with the ability to identify people wearing masks. Beijing is also considering using facial recognition to cope with high-volume rush-hour traffic, according to a report by state media Xinhua in January.

The world’s second-largest economy is expected to lead the global facial recognition technology market with a share of nearly 45% by 2023, according to projections by research firm Gen Market Insights.

However, the convenience of facial recognition comes with a flip-side and the industry is still battling concerns over data privacy and its use for state surveillance purposes—both within China and overseas.

Lao Dongyan, a professor from Tsinghua University said there was an element of “blind optimism” about the technology in an interview with the South China Morning Post last year.

Particular role in China

“Both authorities and companies are not willing to tell the public what the facial recognition cameras are for and what kinds of potential risks come along with that technology,” she said, referring to China.

Facial recognition has played a particularly big role in China’s digitalization strategy, and is used for everything from identifying and shaming jaywalkers to stopping toilet paper theft.

By the end of September, all marriage registries in Xian will have been automated, with AI-powered terminals where couples can obtain their marriage certificates by scanning their faces or identification cards, according to local newspaper Hua Shang Daily.

This article was originally published by the South China Morning Post