China testing 'emotion-recognition' technology on Muslim Uighurs

Chinese authorities testing 'emotion-recognition' technology on Muslim Uighurs: report
2 min read
26 May, 2021
A software engineer who spoke to the BBC's Panorama programme described the AI software as 'similar to a lie detector but far more advanced'.
A human rights advocate has described the allegations as 'shocking' [Anadolu Agency via Getty]

Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have tested emotion-recognition technology on Muslim Uighurs detainees, according to a BBC report.

The revelation comes following widespread reports of Chinese firms developing facial recognition technology allegedly used by the government to identify Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.

A software engineer who spoke to the BBC's Panorama programme, on a condition of anonymity, described installing the cameras at police stations in the northwest province.

"We placed the emotion detection camera 3 [metres] from the subject. It is similar to a lie detector but far more advanced technology."

Detainees were then held in chairs using metal restraints before the AI system set about tracking minute changes in facial expressions and skin pores, the source said.

The data gathered generated a pie chart containing a segment indicating the detainee's relative degree of anxiety or nervousness, according to the software engineer.

He showed Panorama photographs of Uighur detainees who he claimed had been test subjects, and said that the software was intended for "pre-judgement without any credible evidence".

Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, said the allegations were "shocking".

"It's not just that people are being reduced to a pie chart, it's people who are in highly coercive circumstances, under enormous pressure, being understandable nervous and that's taken as an indication of guilt."

Around 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are held in detention camps in Xinjiang, according to rights groups and former detainees, who also accuse authorities of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

Read more: The Uighur slaves of the supply chain: The story of Xinjiang's cotton industry

Beijing describes the camps as "re-education"centres designed to lure the Turkic ethnic groups away from the appeal of separatism and extremism. The US, UK and Canada have declared China's actions to be genocide.

Surveillance in Xinjiang has skyrocketed in recent years, with facial recognition and other technologies becoming the norm across the province.

Washington has already sanctioned Chinese tech firms - including Huawei - for their alleged role in developing the technologies.