Resistance by government officials to a groundbreaking big data experiment is only one of many challenges as the Chinese government starts using new technology to navigate its giant bureaucracy.
According to state media, there were more than 50 million people on China’s government payroll in 2016, though analysts have put the figure at more than 64 million – slightly less than the population of Britain.
To turn this behemoth into a seamless operation befitting the information age, China has started adapting various types of sophisticated technology. The foreign ministry, for instance, is using machine learning to aid in risk assessment and decision making for China’s major investment projects overseas.
Beijing has been developing a nationwide facial recognition system using surveillance cameras capable of identifying any person, anywhere, around the clock within seconds. In Guizhou, a cloud system tracks the movements of every policeman with a live status report.
Major Chinese telecommunication companies such as ZTE have won government contracts to develop blockchain technology to prevent the modification of government data by unauthorized people or organizations.
President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed the necessity of promoting scientific and technological innovations such as big data and artificial intelligence (AI) in government reform.
The challenge is implementing that vision on the ground. Look no further than an anti-corruption AI system dubbed by the researchers working it as “Zero Trust”.
Jointly developed and deployed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Communist Party’s internal control institutions to monitor, evaluate or intervene in the work and personal life of public servants, the system can access more than 150 protected databases in central and local governments for cross-reference.
According to people involved in the programme, this allows it to draw sophisticated, multiple layers of social relationship maps to derive behavior analyses of government employees.
This was “particularly useful” in detecting suspicious property transfers, infrastructure construction, land acquisitions, and house demolitions, a researcher said.
The system is not without its weaknesses, however.
“AI may quickly point out a corrupt official, but it is not very good at explaining the process it has gone through to reach such a conclusion,” the researcher said. “Although it gets it right in most cases, you need a human to work closely with it.”
The system can immediately detect unusual increases in bank savings, for instance, or if there has been a new car purchase or bidding for a government contract under the name of an official or one of his family or friends.
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