Facing the future

Facing the future
Jul 27, 2018 (WiC 419)

At the beginning of this year few people would have associated a prominent Hong Kong pop star with advances in facial recognition technology. However, as we pointed out in WiC410, that all changed when Jacky Cheung’s concerts led to the arrest of three fugitives in three separate cities in China. The criminals were fans of the aging crooner, but got nabbed by police when cameras at his concerts matched their faces with a database of wanted men.

It was a sign of how far the country’s adoption of facial recognition software had progressed. And according to the South China Morning Post, the advances continue at Beijing’s second airport, where passengers’ faces will be scanned to ease bottlenecks at security and immigration counters.

The $12 billion airport will serve the capital, as well as the new administrative city of Xiongan, handling as many as 100 million passengers a year.­­ Passengers will be matched against a national database to speed identity verification and the SCMP says that Sensetime (the three year-old Alibaba-invested AI firm; see WiC405) is one of those hoping to win the airport contract.

Already worth around $4.5 billion, Sensetime has installed its face recognition software at airports in Chengdu and Haikou and at 30 train stations across China. Shanghai-based Yitu is also reported to be bidding for the contract.

Puff piece

Puff piece
Jul 20, 2018 (WiC 418)

“In the event that pilots begin smoking, oxygen masks will fall down…” That should have been the announcement last week when an Air China flight dropped 25,000 feet in 10 minutes following the co-pilot’s decision to smoke in the cockpit.

During the flight in question from Hong Kong to Dalian, the co-pilot (whose name has not been disclosed) ‘vaped’ an e-cigarette and tried to turn off the circulation fan in order to prevent the smoke filtering into the cabin. Instead he switched off an air conditioning unit, which left the cabin with an insufficient amount of oxygen. This prompted the emergency masks to fall down onto the seats of 153 unsuspecting passengers.

If a plane loses cabin pressure, standard operating procedure is to bring it to a lower altitude to keep crew and passengers safe. The plane later regained altitude and landed safely in Dalian, according to the CAAC (the Civil Aviation Administration of China). However, the CAAC fined the airline and cut the carrier’s flights with Boeing 737 models by 10%. Both the pilots have been suspended from flight duty and almost certainly won’t be returning to the skies as the airline wants their licences revoked.

Smoking has been banned on flights since 2000 but in 2015 an elderly Chinese passenger was caught smoking on a Cathay Pacific flight and fined. He argued that he did not know that lighting up was illegal and due to his illiteracy he could not read the signs warning that “smoking is strictly prohibited”, according to the South China Morning Post. Of course, Air China’s naughty pilots can hardly muster the same excuse.

The (37 year-old) graduate

The (37 year-old) graduate
Jul 13, 2018 (WiC 417)

Yao Ming stood out from the crowd last Sunday when he graduated from Shanghai Jiaotong University – and not only because he is 2.29 metres tall. The main reason people were talking so much online was because of what his graduation photo signified: after seven years of studying he’d finally graduated at the age of 37. The news was of widespread interest: Yao is one of China’s most famous people.

Yao earned a bachelors degree in economics, yet his decision to return to college was surprising as he has already had a successful career as China’s top professional basketball player. Following his retirement from the NBA (National Basketball Association) in July 2011, Yao entered university in accordance with an agreement he’d made with his parents (both former basketball players themselves). He explained in his graduation speech, “I was required to make a promise before entering the CBA [Chinese Basketball Association] professional field at the age of 17 that I must return to school after the end of my athlete’s career to finish college.” According to The Greater China Journal this portrays Yao in a very positive light, denoting his adherence to one of the most deeply-rooted traditional values in Chinese society: filial piety.

“If there was no sealed commitment, I would have thought of quitting more than once after a few years of school,” he admitted. However, Yao is not the only famed basketballer to return to education; in 2012, Shaquille O’Neal graduated from Barry University after earning a doctorate in education. The American player also credited his family as inspiration for returning to university, telling CNN, “This is for my mother, who always stressed the importance of education.”

Yet it could be argued that a degree is not entirely necessary for someone like Yao, as he has already been pretty successful outside of sports. He’d used his fame to become a prominent environmental activist, sharing his opposition to the elephant ivory trade and shark-fin soup, according to the South China Morning Post. In addition to this, Yao has had some business success with his vineyard in Napa Valley, Yao Family Wines, and owns his former Chinese basketball team, the Shanghai Sharks (the name may suggest why he feels so strongly about the soup).

Still, Yao’s time living in the US – mainly in Houston – could have made him forget his Confucian promise. He might have argued to his parents that in America success does not always require a degree. Think of famed Harvard dropouts Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Like fellow tech titan, the late Steve Jobs, all three viewed not having a degree as something of a badge of honour.