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China intensifies biometrics, video surveillance research as social credit market builds

China intensifies biometrics, video surveillance research as social credit market builds

China leads all other nations in publishing research on the visual surveillance of populations, one of the most controversial segments of biometrics, according to Georgetown University meta-research.

Coincidentally, computer vision trade publisher IPVM is reporting (subscription required and recommended) on direct sales of visual surveillance to reactionary sectors of the Iranian government by one of China’s most successful systems makers.

Visual surveillance is one small component of a global biometrics-based social credit infrastructure market predicted to reach $16.1 billion in three years, according to a report published by Research and Markets.

That report claims that within that timeframe, AI will “provide nearly flawless identification and tracking” of people and objects.

If, as is generally the case, research levels correlate to technology and product development, China has a global advantage in visual surveillance markets.

According to Georgetown’s research, China published roughly as many papers as did the United States, India, Australia, Italy, Canada, Singapore, Germany, France and South Korea combined. And while China’s share of related research reports grew from 2015 to 2019, the U.S.-dominated group held steady.

The Georgetown analysis is English-language meta-research, which means it is a study of studies, drawing conclusions from trends in what has been published on a topic. In this case, a pair of research analysts from the school’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology focused specifically on visual surveillance.

They looked at papers published between 2015 and 2019 (often comparing data from each of those years in isolation).

Taking a step back, Georgetown’s paper finds that visual surveillance made up just six percent of research on computer vision globally. That might be because there are few governments compared to the uncounted commercial buyers and developers.

Within that microcosm, however, Chinese researchers produced one-third of visual surveillance work over the studied period (as well as one-third of the larger computer vision pie).

And they dominate in research on biometric re-identification, crowd counting and detection of facial spoofing, three areas at the core of modern population monitoring.

The market report suggests that cameras and other optical equipment will make up $723 million of revenues from social credit by 2026. But who are the prospective buyers for social credit infrastructure?

The payoff can be seen in Chinese sales of visual surveillance systems in Iran. Both nations are governed by rigid autocracies that survive in large part by making every individual in its borders feel personally observed.

According to IPVM, China-based Tiandy is selling systems to, among other units of Iranian government control, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Sepâh.

The Revolutionary Guard’s sole mission is to protect Iran’s political system, and some observers think it could be more powerful than the religious zealots it was created to protect. It has been the subject of U.S. sanctions for more than a decade.

Tiandy, with 2020 annual sales of $688 million, according to security-industry publisher a&s, reportedly has been involved in multiple projects in Iran. In fact, it might be the only major Chinese maker of visual surveillance products with a physical presence in Iran selling to the government.

The company in November signed a five-year partnership contract with an Iranian distributor to sell visual surveillance systems, according to IPVM.

Its reporters have previously written that Tiandy sells biometric systems used for “Uyghur tracking and minority estimation.” Uyghurs are an ethnic and religious minority in China feared and persecuted by Beijing.

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