CHINA Podcast: Story in the Story (7/3/2019 Wed.)

CHINA

Podcast: Story in the Story (7/3/2019 Wed.)

People's Daily app

00:52, July 03, 2019

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From the People's Daily app.

And this is Story in the Story. 

Reuniting the homeless with forgotten family members was once possible through the help of websites, photos, and DNA. Today, thanks to rapid advances in technology, rescuing the homeless has become cheaper and more successful.

Three years ago, relief agencies across China reunited 1,500 homeless people with their families.

The following year, homeless service facilities implemented facial recognition technology.  

In 2018, there were 35,000 homeless people living in shelters and at other social welfare institutions, roughly 30 percent less than the previous year.

Today, some 6,500 people have been reunited with their families, reducing the burden on publicly funded relief stations that can only offer temporary shelter.

China's homeless shelters have saved over $700 million thanks largely to the country's technological advances. 

Today's Story in the Story looks at how facial recognition technology has helped China's homeless population reconnect with long lost family members and loved ones.

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(Photo: China Daily)

Employees at a homeless shelter in Guangdong Province asked for help from a popular news aggregator, toutiao.com, to locate the family of a mentally ill man stranded at the facility.

Using geo positioning, the app, which has millions of followers nationwide, quickly sent out tens of thousands of notifications to users in the province's southeastern region to see if anyone knew him.

Employees at the Dongguan Relief Station believed the man was from the region. His name, along with his parents', was included in the message.

Hours later, a call came in saying the man, who had been at the shelter for about 20 months, was their relative Liu Shen, who went missing 20 years ago.

Liu is one of many longtime shelter residents who have been reunited with their families, thanks to the assistance of tech firms like ByteDance, which owns toutiao.com and streaming platform Douyin, and tech giant Baidu.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, toutiao.com has sent out almost 37,000 notifications since the ministry signed up the app in 2016 to help trace people.

Baidu, a Chinese pioneer in artificial intelligence, launched a program to identify long-term shelter residents using its facial-recognition technology.

The company has since compared the facial images of more than 200,000 people with a database provided by the ministry and the public security authorities, consisting of the personal data of those reported missing by relatives.

The efforts have helped longtime shelter residents - mostly seniors or people with special educational needs who failed to offer adequate information and ended up stranded in the facilities - return home quickly.

Zhou Da, who oversees the Baidu Foundation and the company's charitable initiatives, said the company's technology has in some instances been more effective than human efforts to identify people.

"The system can even tell the difference between almost all seemingly identical twins," he said.

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(Photo: Agencies)

Fewer stranded residents have helped reduce management risks, slashed public funding by millions of dollars, and helped ease the shelters' pressure against the backdrop of the central government cutting many positions in the government reshuffle.

Lin Jiawei, a social worker at the shelter in Dongguan who oversaw Liu's return, said the support from tech giants had accelerated the return-home process and reduced problems at the centers such as overcrowding and lack of funding.

Lin added there were almost 150 shelter-seekers whose stay exceeded three months when he began working there.

But the number was down to about 90 within six months, with many sent home thanks in part to the assistance from tech firms.

"Longtime shelter-seekers, mostly seniors with dementia or those suffering from mental problems, have to share rooms in groups of seven or eight, which is worrisome given the limited staff at government-funded relief stations," he said.

Tang Yaowu, 33, was reunited with his family after losing contact more than four years ago.

The employees of a homeless shelter in Yongzhou found Tang, who suffers from a mental disability, on the street in June 2014. He did not know who he was or where he was from.

In October 2018, the shelter started cooperating with the local public security bureau, using facial recognition technology to help identify vagrants and beggars.

The police quickly found Tang's information, and the shelter contacted his father on December 31.

"I looked for my son for more than four years. I thought I would never see him again," said the 63-year old father, Tang Chunhua.

(Produced by Nancy Yan, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe and Chelle Wenqian Zeng. Music by: bensound.com. Text from Global Times and China Daily.)  


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