China May Be Using AI to Determine People's Response to 'Thought Education'

Chinese researchers have reportedly developed an artificial intelligence system that is able to judge how receptive people are to "thought and political education."

The system was described in a report that was published online on July 1 and deleted shortly afterwards. However, details were collected by Didi Tang, a Beijing-based reporter for The Times newspaper.

The system was reportedly designed by Hefei Comprehensive National Science Centre and involved at least two methods of collecting people's thought data: facial recognition and brain wave scans.

Security cameras in China
Millions of people in China reportedly use an app that scores them on quizzes about the government. Above: Stock photo shows security cameras in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Getty Images/jonsanjose

In a study, 43 members of China's ruling Communist Party (CCP) were told to participate in party lessons while they were monitored, according to The Times report. A video apparently showed how one such volunteer sits at a kiosk while scrolling through articles about party policies and achievements.

It was not described exactly how the system would collect brain scans or facial recognition data, though surveillance cameras were presumably involved in the latter. It's also not clear how the system would be used more widely outside of a controlled environment.

The research study is quoted as stating: "On one hand, [the system] can judge how party members have accepted thought and political education.

"On the other hand, it will provide real data for thought and political education so it can be improved and enriched."

The study may go hand-in-hand with China's established efforts to get its population ideologically aligned with government policy.

China is known to make use of an app that people are encouraged to use in order to learn more about the CCP and its leader Xi Jinping. The "Study (Xi) Strong Country" app as it is known is reportedly used by around 100 million people and allows users to read state media reports and brush up on Xi's activity. They can also take quizzes, including questions about Xi, in order to earn points, The Guardian newspaper reported in 2019. The app also includes social features like video calls and messaging.

However, there have been reports of institutional pressure on people to use the app, with schools reportedly shaming students with low scores and companies requiring employees to submit daily screenshots of their points, The New York Times reported.

There have also been examples of systems trialed in the country to gauge people's emotions. Several reports in 2017 claimed that the brain waves of employees in some factories, state enterprises and the military were being scanned via helmets. These brain waves could then be analyzed via artificial intelligence to spot workplace rage or anxiety, and working conditions might then be tailored in response.