May 17, 2018 / 9:07 AM / 5 months ago

Sleepy pupils in the picture at high-tech Chinese school

BEIJING (Reuters) - High school students in one Chinese school may want to think twice before dozing off in class. Artificially intelligent cameras with facial recognition tools will be watching.

Visitors are seen at a booth of security camera supplier Hikvision Digital Technology during an expo at the National Convention Center in Beijing, China March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer A

The Hangzhou No. 11 Middle School has installed a “smart classroom behavior management system”, which captures students’ expressions and movements, analyzing them with big data to make sure they’re paying attention, media reported on Thursday.

The “Big Brother” strategy underscores how AI and facial recognition tools are increasingly being used in China for a host of tasks, from verifying payments and catching criminals to checking the audience at big entertainment events and customers at fast-food joints.

The ubiquitous cameras - part of daily life in most big Chinese cities - are part of an array of surveillance technologies that have raised worries about privacy.

“The system only collects students’ facial expressions and behavior information,” the school’s vice principal, Zhang Guanqun, told news outlet the Paper.

“It can improve interactions between the teachers and students.”

The system will be able to tell if students are reading or listening - or napping at their desks. It can detect expressions like happiness, repulsion, fear, anger and befuddlement.

Students will get a real-time attentiveness score, which will be shown to their teacher on a screen, media said.

The system is devised by Hikvision Digital Technology, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of security cameras and which is developing its own AI technology.

Hikvision did not reply when contacted by Reuters by telephone and email.

Pervasive surveillance has long been used in China to deter crime, but many fear that authorities are trying to create a surveillance state, both online and off, to keep track of citizens and crack down on dissent.

The extensive use of cameras has sparked some controversy.

Chinese cyber security firm Qihoo 360 shut down a livestreaming platform last year that allowed people to stream footage from surveillance cameras in locations such as classrooms, restaurants and grocery stores.

The Hangzhou school vice principal said that after a month-long trial, students had begun to accept the monitoring and had improved their behavior.

But some people have been dismayed.

“Is this a concentration camp? They are kids, not the target of dictatorship,” wrote one person on the Weibo social media platform.

Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Robert Birsel

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