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Beijing AI Targets “Hospital Scalpers”

It's not uncommon to find scalpers at concert halls and sporting events, hawking admission tickets at inflated prices. Chinese hospitals however have been invaded by a more problematic breed of scalper — those who deal in the appointment registration tokens that hospitals use to process patient visits.

It’s not uncommon to find scalpers at concert halls and sporting events, hawking admission tickets at inflated prices. Chinese hospitals however have been invaded by a more problematic breed of scalper — those who deal in the appointment registration tokens that hospitals use to process patient visits.

Early in the morning these scalpers swarm hospital registration desks to snatch up available appointment tokens. They return later to slink along the patient queue, looking for anyone sick or desperate enough to buy a line-jumping token at the jaw-dropping prices they charge.

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Picture from local report on hospital scalpers

Beijing hospitals are turning to AI to stop the scalpers. Last Friday the Beijing Municipal Health Commission (BMHC) announced that major hospitals in Beijing, including Peking University People’s Hospital and Beijing Tiantan Hospital of Capital Medical University, were sharing information on 2,100 scalpers identified by authorities since 2017. The data includes scalpers’ profile photos and identity numbers, and is being used by city medical institutes’ facial recognition systems to stymie scalpers’ illegal activities. The Beijing Daily newspaper reports the system can trigger an alarm if a scalper enters a hospital, enabling the hospital to better monitor them.

Today’s advanced facial recognition systems leverage the fact that very individual has a unique set of facial features — the width of their nose, the distance between their eyes, etc. — and these “faceprints” can be effectively detected even from a distance. China has been a leader in the tech’s development and deployment since the Ministry of Public Security launched the world’s most extensive facial recognition database in 2015.

The tech has a wide range of applications. To tackle train station overcrowding during the last month’s Lunar New Year travel rush, China equipped some 500 railway and coach ticket machines with a facial recognition powered “hop-on first, pay later” QR payment feature, which reduced the average waiting time of 30 minutes to just a few minutes.

It is also increasingly common to see facial recognition technology integrated with security and police work. Police can identify crime suspects in real-time based on matches between CCTV captures and identity databases. Chinese AI startup Yitu’s computer vision and machine learning systems are particularly competent in recognizing human faces and vehicles. Hundreds of local and regional public security departments have adopted such systems for spotting crime and hunting fugitives.

Traffic police in major Chinese cities are also using AI. Smart cameras at intersections use facial recognition techniques to identify jaywalkers, whose partially obscured names and faces are then displayed on screens in a sort of public shaming scheme. The tech still has some glitches: as Synced previously reported, an AI traffic system in the southern port city of Ningbo falsely identified a photo of Chinese billionaire Mingzhu Dong on the side of a passing bus as a jaywalker.

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An AI system misunderstood a bus ad featuring Chinese billionaire Mingzhu Dong, falsely identifying her as a jaywalker

Over 900 hospital scalpers were detained in Beijing last year as part of a citywide crackdown. Authorities have also tightened restrictions on hospital appointment token registration systems to reduce cheating. Additionally, the Beijing Municipal Health Commission will begin publicly releasing the names of hospital scalpers, who face restrictions on booking flights or high-speed trains, registering companies, or applying for bank loans.


Journalist: Fangyu Cai | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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