Hong Kong start-up Wildfaces Technology is looking to ward off suicide attempts and violence in prisons with the help of artificial intelligence, as the government and private enterprises in the city step up use of AI to build smart city infrastructure. Using AI-powered cameras, Wildfaces has developed a video analytics system for the city’s Correctional Services Department to detect suspicious behaviour among large numbers of inmates, including self-harm and fighting. A general lack of data on these kinds of behaviour prompted Wildfaces to steer away from deep learning and turn to rule-based behavioural analytics to detect signs of potentially negative behaviour, according to Ivy Li, the company’s founder and executive director. The system compares and analyses suspicious patterns of behaviour via camera images automatically and without human involvement, such as gatherings of inmates or if a prisoner is standing next to windows with a rope or hitting their head against a wall. In such cases, the system will alert physical officers to the danger and they can make an intervention. More than 40 cameras with the AI system were installed in February in Pik Uk Prison, a minimum security prison in Hong Kong’s Sai Kung district, as part of a “smart prison” project and more cameras are expected to be rolled out to other institutions soon. Li, an AI veteran from Hong Kong, established Wildfaces last year. Her first venture was iOmniscient, an AI and facial recognition company that she founded in Australia 18 years ago and which she still runs. Li decided to set up a new firm to focus on vision-based AI applications for Hong Kong and the mainland market, leveraging technologies from iOmniscient. The company is also exploring the use of facial recognition in exercise yards and workshops, where the technology can monitor and manage a large group of inmates from a distance. Chinese surveillance giant stockpiles parts amid US uncertainties Apart from the video surveillance system developed by Wildfaces, the Correctional Services Department is also testing smart wristbands to monitor the health of inmates and robotic arms to detect drugs in human faeces, under the “smart prison” initiative. The smart prison project forms part of wider smart city initiatives Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor raised in her policy address last October to equip law enforcement agencies with new technology and boost efficiency. Businesses and public organisations in Hong Kong are increasingly adopting AI as the government continues to encourage the creation of a world-class smart city in mobility, living, environment, public service and other fields. In 2018, prisons in Hong Kong reported two deaths by suicide out of 48 cases of self-harm, and a total of 483 cases involving violent acts, including fighting among prisoners and assaults on prison officers, according to data from the Correctional Services Department in February. Li is impressed by how Hong Kong weighs the security and protection of inmates against their potential to offend again, saying it compared favourably in this regard to other parts of the world. China’s face-scan tech now stretches to trash cans and public housing “I’ve been involved in many smart prison projects across the world, but Hong Kong is very unique in caring really deeply about the security and protection of inmates. We don’t get the request [to monitor self-harm] elsewhere,” Li said. “Most of the other projects are more focused on monitoring escapes and fights.” Apart from smart prisons, Wildfaces is also deploying its AI technology to help the subway system with preventive maintenance, by detecting abnormalities in frequently used machines and equipment, such as escalators and lifts. Widlfaces is betting on the increasing use of vision-based AI. Apart from fixed video surveillance, cameras are increasingly being installed on moving devices such as smartphones, glasses, and drones among others, which would require less computing power to make real-time recognition and tracking, Li said. In Hong Kong, the deployment of AI is on the rise but the city has a “pragmatic” approach to the technology, said Li. “In Hong Kong, we need to really prove that our technology makes business sense, rather than using AI for the sake of it.” For more insights into China technology, be part of our Inside China Tech group on Facebook . Listen to our Inside China Tech podcast and subscribe via iTunes , Spotify or Stitcher . For a comprehensive survey of China’s digital landscape, download the 2019 China Internet Report .