Has the surveillance state made driving in the world’s largest auto market too strict?
China and the automotive world have a strange relationship from our western perspective. It’s the world’s largest auto market, which means it could one day become the nation with the largest amount of drivers if it hasn't already. It also has very strict laws governing how many electric cars automakers need to start selling, which is why when we usually think of automotive technology and China, we think of EVs.
But there’s an entirely different universe of technology surrounding vehicles in China, and one of those is artificial intelligence. Not the kind used to help train cars to drive themselves, but the kind that regulates the human drivers on China’s roads.
While the news tends to cover China’s extensive use of cameras and facial recognition technology to control its population, it’s important to realize that China uses the same tech to corral its drivers. That’s something a driver in Jinan, eastern Shandong province, with a last name of Liu learned the hard way when he received a notification that he had violated the law by driving while holding a phone, according to the BBC. The kicker is that Liu was not using his phone while driving, but was instead scratching his face in a way that made it look like he was holding his phone.
His movement was enough to make a surveillance camera think Liu was using his phone, and he was later informed he’d lose two points on his driver’s license and receive a 50 yuan ($7.25) fine. He took to Weibo to complain after finding he was unable to get ahold of traffic authorities to correct the fine.
"I often see people online exposed for driving and touching [others'] legs," he said in his post, "but this morning, for touching my face, I was also snapped 'breaking the rules’!" The post was apparently seen by Chinese traffic authorities because they canceled his ticket and reinstated the points he lost on his license.
While the incident can be seen as just another misfortune that was rectified by the Internet, it’s more troubling to learn just how tightly controlled China’s citizens are. The only equivalent we get here are red light cameras, which are slowly being phased out by some states. Let’s just hope these supposedly "intelligent” cameras don’t replace them.