Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageOp-Ed: Counting protestors with A.I. changes the game forever

By Paul Wallis     Jul 8, 2019 in Technology
Hong Kong - One of the most common tactics in protests is to underrate or overrate the numbers in big protests. Artificial intelligence may have just put an end to that, as information from a trial of A.I. head counts in Hong Kong shows.
The technology used for the Hong Kong head counts involves both A.I. and some pretty fancy software. The New York Times has an article which describes the setup in detail and how it worked. It’s simple, it’s easy, and seems to be effective in delivering a head count.
Paul Yip, professor of social sciences at Hong Kong University, has been studying the Hong Kong protests in depth since 2003. In combination with Texas State University and C&R Wise AI, Yip conducted what may well be the very first A.I. study of crowd numbers.
(Please note: There are multiple technologies involved in this count. It’s important to understand the techniques used to count, and why these techniques and technologies are critical to accuracy of counts. Do please read The New York Times article for this information, which I don’t want to garble in translation.)
Protesters in Hong Kong are demanding that a postponed extradition bill be scrapped entirely
Protesters in Hong Kong are demanding that a postponed extradition bill be scrapped entirely
VIVEK PRAKASH, AFP
The politics of numbers
"How many people?" is the big issue in evaluating the strength of protests. The Hong Kong protests were particularly sensitive on the subject of numbers. The Hong Kong police downplayed the Hong Kong protests, suggesting that there were only 190,000 protestors. The organisers of the protest said there were 500,000. Independent estimates were roughly in the 200,000 range.
Estimates were always going to be difficult. Large numbers of people were moving through narrow streets, making any sort of count very hard to manage, whatever means of counting was used. According to the A.I. there were about 250,000. You can see the discrepancies. The police estimate was 25% under the numbers as recorded by the A.I. The various numbers from estimates not using A.I. can be attributed to less advanced technologies, and/or political reasons for under or overestimation.
The significance of numbers is both very important and very superficial, depending on which estimate you’re talking about. The underestimation is the usual way of devaluing the importance of a protest. Overestimation can be based on a similar desire to upvalue the protest, optimism, or simply bad information from organisers whose counts tend to round up.
Despite repeated requests  Hong Kong's police have not released a breakdown of how many people ...
Despite repeated requests, Hong Kong's police have not released a breakdown of how many people have been detained in the last month of protests
HECTOR RETAMAL, AFP
Technologies make a big difference
The thing that may bother many people looking at how heads are counted is that it visually resembles facial recognition technology as used by security agencies.
A few things to note:
• This isn’t exactly the same as security technology, although it does have common components. This particular exercise didn’t include facial recognition, although it easily could have. This tech can even count objects, so the degree of detail is very high.
• Security biometrics and head counts are different ball games. The Hong Kong protests infuriated the Chinese government. It’s quite possible Chinese authorities may have used facial recognition in monitoring the protests. This sort of data can also be repurposed and fed in to surveillance networks. Think of it as an “audit” for tracking people, both groups and individuals.
• This is definitely a game changer for monitoring real numbers at protests and elsewhere. Imagine if the very high political spin events like the UK Brexit protests, the US Presidential inaugurations, or other major turnouts could be accurately counted. These very high profile political events have always been pretty kind to themselves in numbers attending. There’s always a “record crowd”, at least in the minds of the PR guys and organisers. That may change, drastically, and not before time.
Hong Kong has been rocked by unprecedented anti-government protests
Hong Kong has been rocked by unprecedented anti-government protests
Anthony WALLACE, AFP
The future, maybe too soon
You can be absolutely sure that this class of technology is just the beginning of a whole new way of counting people around the world. It can be used in shopping centres, rallies, etc. and do a lot to add meaningful stats as well as possible spin on the numbers. Its uses may be good or bad, but the days of seeing what you want to see with your own numbers are about to disappear.
Protesters in Hong Kong are planning a series of demonstrations in the run-up to the G20 meetings Ju...
Protesters in Hong Kong are planning a series of demonstrations in the run-up to the G20 meetings June 27-28, 2019 in Japan
Anthony WALLACE, AFP
Protesters marched to the United States consul in Hong Kong seeking support for opposition to a prop...
Protesters marched to the United States consul in Hong Kong seeking support for opposition to a proposed extradition law
ISAAC LAWRENCE, AFP
Hong Kong has been shaken by huge demonstrations against an upopular proposed law that would allow e...
Hong Kong has been shaken by huge demonstrations against an upopular proposed law that would allow extradition to the Chinese mainland
ISAAC LAWRENCE, AFP/File
Huge protests sweeping Hong Kong have  reinforced many people's determination to emigrate
Huge protests sweeping Hong Kong have reinforced many people's determination to emigrate
Anthony WALLACE, AFP
Protesters occupy a main road outside government headquarters in Hong Kong
Protesters occupy a main road outside government headquarters in Hong Kong
Anthony WALLACE, AFP
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about artificial intelligence head counts, Hong Kong protests, Paul Yip, Hong Kong University, texas state university
More news from
Latest News
Top News