At the Crosswalk
Jaywalking is considered a survival right by the busy American pedestrian. She anticipates the coming green light. Realizing there is no opposing traffic, he is on his way even if the light is red. I understand that both in Los Angeles and NYC cops do stop pedestrian for jaywalking. Perhaps you’ve noticed how joggers despise the interruption of the red light in their path. Downtown pedestrians beset by one-way streets feel it unnecessary to wait in the absence of oncoming cars.
But what if – and in American cities it is still a very big IF – what if there were cameras with face scanning technology behind them scanning for the faces of jaywalkers at busy intersections? In China the technology at the crosswalk is common. Traffic management authorities in the city of Jinan mounted cameras above 50 of the busiest intersections to detect jaywalkers. If you step out of line at one of the monitored intersections, several photos are taken along with a short video of the violation.
Brazen or Ashamed?
The facial recognition software will check your picture against images in a regional police database. A match will come up within 20 minutes. But simply identifying the culprit isn’t enough. Of course, there is a consequence. In fact, a choice of one of three optional consequences. Either the fine, which amounts to about $3, or the public service of assisting police with traffic control for 20 minutes, or a 30 minute class in traffic rules. But wait. There’s more. There is the shaming.
As the match is made the photo appears on an overhead screen at the intersection to let everyone know who got caught. There is also brief display of the perpetrator’s ID number and home address on the intersection screen. The consequence is more annoying, while the shaming has a powerful public intimidation. Imagine having your name and mug shot appear on Facebook as a jaywalker! It’s been done on Chinese Social Media.
The facial recognition software has proven a powerful tool to catch and shame jaywalkers. The number of violations at one intersection dropped from 200 per day to 20. However, technology used to control human behavior in such a manner has a strong scent of a dystopian society.A society qualifies as dystopian when the veneer of a peaceful quiet paradise hides the reality of oppressive control. China has become the world’s most advanced surveillance state by using facial recognition.
The surface benefit of use is clear. Reducing airport check-in to a one-second face scan not only keeps lines at a minimum, but promises to eliminate harmful passengers. Entering a smart restaurant makes the claim of “fast food” faster as the scan suggests menu items based on apparent age, sex and attitude. A women’s dormitory keeps out nonresidents. Schools allow only registered students to enter. The list goes on. But can quickly turn nasty. In China the dispensers at the entrance to public restrooms issue only 23.6 inches of toilet paper. Facial recognition prohibits receiving more until 9 minutes have passed.
The eventual goal of a new government program, according to an article in The Atlantic, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” The veneer of the Utopian society begins to crumble under the definition of “trustworthy” and “discredited.” Gathering data for its citizens each person would be assigned a total score. Financial information, civil records, legal records, educational records, employment records… all build the individual profile.
Do something good and receive an increase to your score. Fail to pay a traffic fine and receive a deduction. Technology enables keeping the score for each person. Even if there are 1.4 billion people. Quickly, the mask of paradise is removed and the oppression of sameness threatens personality, creativity and incentive. Then those in control must decide what to do with malcontents with scores that drop too low. These will not be allowed “to take a single step.”
The road of technology has turns.