china cctv
China's nationwide CCTV system can recognise facial features of citizens, their age, gender, ethnicity, and even the way they walk. Quartz/YouTube

Dubbed to be the "world's largest and most advanced camera surveillance network", China has built a new surveillance system that is composed of millions of cameras designed to instantly recognise people. The network has already been used in Shanghai to track down and shame traffic offenders.

The Chinese government is closely working with private technology companies to develop a vast surveillance system of CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras powered by artificial intelligence. Built with more than 170 million cameras across the country, the system's facial recognition ability allows it to keep tabs on people as well as locate law offenders or persons of interests within minutes.

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Earlier in the month, authorities tested the system in the city of Guiyang, a 3.5 million populated capital of Guizhou province, where the police have a vast digital catalogue containing the images of every citizen. After BBC reporter John Sudworth had his face recorded at the police control room of Guiyang Public Security Bureau, his crew set out for a test around the city. It took only 7 minutes for authorities to find Sudworth in the simulated test.

Apart from face-reading techniques, the nationwide CCTV system can also recognise other human features, their age, gender, ethnicity, and even the way they walk. Most important, the system will be used by authorities to determine suspicious activities or behaviours in order to prevent crimes.

According to BBC, about 400 million additional cameras will be placed across China in the next three years.

Shanghai police have been using the database to publicly shame motorists and pedestrians who violate traffic rules in the city. In one bus stop, a screen is installed to display the said offenders.

china cctv
Quartz/YouTube

"I think that in people's lives, there are issues of safety and issues of privacy. I think that when these two things come into conflict, Chinese people perhaps care more about safety. Because when you don't have safety, you have nothing at all," says Shengjin Wang, an engineer from Tsinghua University, in an interview with Quartz.

Check out Quartz's video below!