Have you ever heard of Anhui University?

From the Chinese internet The way forward: AI workers in China

This is where it is produced, the tapered lower jaw of the popular selfie app, with which you can beautify yourself in pictures. But also the dynamic mustache for the popular mobile phone game that you can play with friends, or the real-time identification of criminals at concerts by Zhang Xueyou, the self-driving car of the future and intelligent admission control systems.

Because at this location there is a data workshop with Chinese characteristics. Its employees are scattered across small fourth and fifth tier cities in Henan, Shandong, Hebei and other provinces and are on duty 24/7 for world-leading AI products. And more and more people are lining up to work here.

❶ "Ladder, movable"

A photo of a European street café appears in front of Ma Mengli. She moves the mouse and a green frame with the note "chair" appears on the picture. She quickly places another green frame around a vase with a bouquet of flowers and marks it as “a flower stuck in a container”.

In another photo, which shows a Japanese flower market, Ma Mengli checks each marked “flower pot” in several rows of close-packed green plants.

The next photo, the bedroom of a child in the USA: a “chair”, a “table” ... In a flash she deletes the frame with “ladder” because the customer demands that it must be movable ladders, and that kind of ladder that is already firmly soldered to the loft bed, you cannot count on it.

The next photo, and the next photo, and the next photo. No matter what kind of scene she sees in front of her, Ma Mengli circles “ladders”, “tea tables”, “carpets” and “sofas” one after the other with undiminished nimble hand.

“Ladder”, “tea table”, “carpet”, “sofa”. “Ladder”, “tea table”, “carpet”, “sofa” ... In this cycle it runs and repeats itself without ceasing. Ma Mengli's daily work begins at eight in the morning. Then she sits down at her desk, turns on the computer, enters the username and password, moves the mouse and starts marking. Day after day, with each day lasting nine hours.

The photos on the screen are very blurred and come from all global social networks, taken from chaotic angles and with a low number of pixels. The photo of a Korean kimchi stand apparently came from a camera that was used to take pictures from a corner. Ma Mengli enlarges the picture and circles a blurred outline next to the foot of a passer-by: “trash can”.

At work next to her someone turns on a music system and a lively pop song sounds: "Burn my calories!"

There are several hundred screens in the room, on which photos of different colors flicker. All employees choose the same content for their frames: trash cans, ladders, tea tables, carpets ... The location is Pingdingshan City, Jia County, Henan Province, the data company is called Qianji, and the room looks like an internet café. Accompanied by popular songs from the net, the young employees sit on soft sofa armchairs and keep pulling out frames. Ma Mengli is the auditor. You and your colleagues have to check all the frames that have been set to ensure that each frame hugs the edges of the object in question. All objects in the picture must be framed and there must be absolutely no omissions.

the employees at work | © Zhang Boran (张博 然) Ma Mengli has to check at least a thousand photos every day. The current order has been working on for two months, during which her colleagues marked around ten thousand trash cans, ladders, tea tables and carpets ... 29-year-old Ma Mengli knows that these framed pictures are first collected and then on one successful unicorn startup for AI in Beijing, where they are transformed into learning material for artificial intelligence.

What she does not know is that these tens of thousands of marked “ladders, movable” represent the innumerable forms of appearance of ladders, which are then processed by a deep learning algorithm and finally enable the computer to recognize: This is a ladder from the kind that can be moved.

The data that marks it day in and day out comes from Baidu, Jingdong, Alibaba, Megvii, Momenta and other large companies and is used for artificial intelligence training without exception. An industry wisdom says that anything that humans are able to do after the age of five is no problem for robots, while all the practical information that humans can decipher with the help of instinct before the age of five is learned by computers the dumbest way would have to. It currently takes tens of thousands of Ma Menglis to provide artificial intelligence image marking services.

But what is the benefit if the computer recognizes a sofa or a ladder?

Ma Mengli, who cannot answer this question, turns to her boss Liu Yangfeng and passes it on to him. Liu Yangfeng is thirty-one years old and the person who got the job at a competition in Beijing. He rubs his hair through his hair and remembers his client once mentioning that they would take part in a world-class artificial intelligence competition abroad on September 8th. “And are these things used for the competition?” He's not sure. And when I ask him about more details about the competition, he doesn't know anything about it either.

❷ In the service of artificial intelligence

My first meal after arriving in Jia County. Liu Yangfeng and his partner Liu Lei take me to a local restaurant famous on the internet. In the pasta restaurant we meet a pretty presenter who has won 880,000 fans on a platform for short videos by recording all kinds of everyday scenes in the restaurant. At lunchtime it is jam-packed on both floors, half with guests who have come here for the food, and the other half with fans drawn by the well-known name.

We meet the young woman by chance during a live broadcast and I discover that the presenter looks different as a real person than in the videos: Her skin is better on the screen, her eyes are very large, her chin is tapered and her laughing muscles are rounder.

It's the filter on her short video app that spruced her up. Just like the software for self-recordings, the filter of live streaming platforms is based on artificial intelligence, which can make faces narrower, eyes larger and skin smoother in real time. The reason why the app is able to recognize where the eyes are and where the chin is due to the fact that AI data annotation workers previously marked the five sensory organs of the human face.

When we set off, the young woman still greets the audience, who is stepping into the room with the live broadcast for the first time, without a break. She smiles shyly into the camera: "I'm single, I have no boyfriend."

“She is the daughter-in-law of the boss from there.” While she begins to talk about the presenter, Ma Mengli draws a frame on the photo of a Russian restaurant and laughs out loud. Jia County is very small, so secrets do not stay secret for long. With a quick wave of the hand she points to the employees of the company: "If you absolutely want to, then we all have some kind of relationship with one another."

Coming from the same district town, Ma Mengli and the presenter lived in pretty similar circumstances a few years ago. But after that, technology formed two types of people: Ma Mengli became a worker in the daily service for AI, while the moderator used the possibilities offered by AI to earn money and get rich.

Ma Mengli is twenty-nine years old and when you meet her she gives you a big smile. She tries to give an answer to every question. After finishing junior high school, she left home and looked for a job. She worked as a seamstress in a clothing factory and was also employed as a mobile worker off the assembly line at Foxconn for four years: Hewlett-Packard screens were produced on the assembly line, and her job was to fill in for absent colleagues at any time. In the front area she assembled front panels, housings and frames for monitors, in the rear area she carried out tests, checked with the aid of a data transmission line that there were no bright spots on the screens and stuck labels on them.

After returning home, she opened an internet café and worked as a supermarket cashier. Last year, she accepted the job of a "computer operator," which earns her three to four thousand yuan a month, more than a cashier but less than at Foxconn. She likes the working conditions: sitting down to use a computer, having air conditioning and going home early so that she can play with the children for a while back at home in the evening. In addition, three of the bosses are acquaintances of her: "Our villages are all next to each other, we have known each other since childhood."

Over the past year, Ma Mengli has looked at all sorts of weird photos and has marked a human body with points of articulation, from the top of the head, neck, and knees to the ankles, a total of seventeen points of articulation. She has drawn frames around cars, motorcycles and bicycles on pictures of streets. Photos taken during the night had given them twice as much difficulty as those taken during the day. Once she also made sound recordings for a whole afternoon and spoke three hundred sentences into her cell phone. Some were short, two to five words, others were ten to over twenty words. The company ordered its employees not to disclose the specific content of the sentences.

In 2012, Google Brain carried out a famous experiment: a thousand computers formed a neural network made up of more than a billion “synaptic” connections. Researchers fed in ten million still images, and after three days of intensive searching for recurring patterns, Google Brain was finally able to identify a few specific recurring categories: human faces and bodies, or a cat.

AI data annotation workers like Ma Mengli are people who feed a computer with pictures and artificial intelligence supply them with learning material. To do this, they use the most primitive methods, manually marking one image at a time. You set hundreds of marker points on a human face, teach the computer where the inner and outer corners of the eye are, and expand its field of vision in a matter of seconds. After the entered phonetic information has been split up and marked, it enables an intelligent voicebox to understand the meaning of "shut down" or "call my husband in ten minutes". If self-driving vehicles will be able to stop at intersections in the future, it will be because workers have marked traffic lights, zebra crossings and pedestrians moving in a sequence of images.

One of the best-known examples of this technique is that during a security check with the help of a facial recognition system, the police arrested five fugitive criminals at four tour concerts by Zhang Xueyou in Nanchang, Zhangzhou, Jiaxing and Jinhua.

As soon as I mention this message, Liu Yangfeng immediately pronounces the name of the company behind it. Although they never worked together, he knows how the system works: the moment the fugitive criminals walk past the camera with their tickets full of anticipation, the information about their faces has already been extracted. They are forwarded to a cloud in real time and compared with a backend database in next to no time.

It is an undifferentiated information comparison. Using traditional labor, tracking down a fugitive criminal at the security checkpoint of a concert attended by tens of thousands of people would require hundreds of security guards. Now it only takes a few seconds and the comparison is complete. The system gives a warning, the police locate the criminal based on the recordings and arrest him.

❸ It was very simple, almost like taking a screenshot with QQ

The history of the data company Qianji goes back only a year and it only took three days from the idea to its foundation.

On the first day, Liu Yangfeng met with the other two co-founders to consider what they would do in the future. He pulled out a document - a Jiangsu data labeling company was reselling an order - and mentioned a new term: data annotation.

Liu Yangfeng had experimented with the software and put a frame around a pedestrian on the photo of a street - it was very easy, almost like a screenshot with the instant messaging service QQ.

On the second day, the three of them got a network cable and went to Pingdingshan to buy cell office dividers. They bought it at a second-hand market for ninety yuan each.

The interviews were held on the third day. Liu Yangfeng has a cousin with a cell phone shop who has been hanging around the community for seven or eight years. “He has a WeChat group and knows a lot of people. All he had to do was send his friends a message and people would come to us. ”The only requirement for employment was that the prospective customer should not be too old. They hired twenty people and weeded out some applicants over forty.

When Li Feifei, an assistant professor at Princeton University and an expert in computer vision, first tested data annotation in 2007, she employed a group of Princeton students for $ 10 an hour. Ten years later, the experiment had grown into an industry. In a third or fourth tier Chinese city in Jia County, it took off in the form of factories, workshops, and quality inspectors.

Liu Yangfeng (刘洋 锋) | © Zhang Boran (张博 然) Liu Yangfeng's company was founded in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the small county town. The starting workforce consisted of students who had just graduated from middle school, women over thirty with children at home, former cell phone store clerks, and former clothing store clerks. After the commercial exploitation by the Jiangsu company, which charges 0.032 yuan for each frame drawn, his company deducts a percentage for itself, turning it into 0.025 yuan, which ends up in the hands of the employees.

A week later, everyone was already familiar with using computers. The threshold for this work was close to zero. The number of computers increased to forty, then a hundred, and in a year it was over five hundred. The entire workforce is made up of locals. This year, seven people from Ma Mengli's village joined them. She takes me home on an electric scooter. As a child, she rode her bike on the ten kilometer long village road, when the road was still a single leveled mud pit and a whole morning would not be enough to get there. It's now turned into a cement road and we'll be with her in twenty minutes. Ma Mengli's family has just bought a Haval SUV on credit and takes their colleagues from the village to work on rainy days.

At the end of summer the weather has cooled, the evening wind sweeps over the small rivers and corn fields, and the leaves rustle. At home, her seven-year-old son lies on his stomach in an air-conditioned room, watching a horror movie. He is about to start school. When he sees that Ma Mengli is back, he jumps up and throws himself into his mother's arms.

Lately, Liu Yangfeng has been busy until after midnight every day and then sleeps right in the office. When he woke up today, it occurred to him that he had already forgotten to buy book covers for his son, which is why he immediately reproaches himself. Born in 1987, he dropped out of the vocational school, where he had studied computer science, after the first half. It was only after three years of teaching about the origins of the computer that they started talking about how a server is configured.

In 2005, Liu Yangfeng rushed to Chongqing, where he became an excavator operator on a construction site and earned more than five thousand yuan a month. He bought a used IBM ThinkPad and put computer books, software, and computer magazines in a snakeskin bag that he took with him wherever he went. In the evening in the dormitory he studied on his own. He then went to all corners of the country as a sales promoter for beverage bottles, sold high-quality grape fertilizers imported on the Red River in Yunnan and even stayed in Chile for a month. At that time, one of his bosses wanted to sell imitations of branded cell phones from the Huaqiangbei district of Shenzhen to South America and first let him learn Spanish for a month. But the cell phone deal didn't come off and the only profit the thing brought him was the memory of hola (hello) and gracias (thank you).

Before Liu Yangfeng returned to Jia County, he made single-chip microcomputers in Zhuhai for a while, using his own computer skills. The small company assembled automated devices that could pick up and drop items with precision, and specifically test the Wi-Fi and cell phone motherboards - exactly the job Ma Mengli had done on the assembly line in the past.

The single-chip microcomputers were fast, working twenty-four hours a day without ceasing. If you spent tens of thousands of yuan on one, he would replace an entire ten-person assembly line team. On the other hand, one consequence of large corporations' AI data tagging may be large-scale human labor replacement. Kai-Fu Lee once wrote an article expressing concern about the rapid development of AI technology. He believes that this will lead to a reshaping of the social structure, a greater division into rich and poor, and that many people will be exposed to the risk of falling out of their social class and consequently losing their dignity:

“This change will bring tremendous profits to the companies that develop artificial intelligence and employ artificial intelligence ... We will face two new situations that cannot co-exist harmoniously: While immense wealth is in the hands of a very small number of People will lie, a large number of employees will lose their jobs. "

But the people at the end of the production chain don't worry about these problems. You are too far from them. The head of an AI data tagging company in Beijing said to me, “The workers only open other people's websites to use other people's software to manipulate other people's data according to other people's and other people's schemes to hand over. The company itself does not come into contact with any part of the artificial intelligence and cannot keep the data itself ”. "We do not have the ability to research and develop, we are just a kind of (original equipment) Foxconn."

In Jia County, however, this is still a new and emerging product. In August this year, Liu Yangfeng posted a job advertisement on the Jia County official account. The article put the work of the AI ​​data qualifier on a high pedestal: “In the context of this passage, some of your ideas actually represent the ideas of artificial intelligence. Based on the data you process, the artificial intelligence will go through a deep learning process and thus achieve more intelligence. ”The monthly salary stated in the ad was 3000-8000 yuan (not capped, the more you work, the more money got one).

"It was all a trick," Liu Yangfeng honestly admits. “Nobody can get eight thousand, and those who work hardest get a little more than four thousand yuan.” Compared to the “2500-3000 yuan” job advertisements that can be found all over the county, that's a lot more. Liu Yangfeng asked a friend to write the copy for him. The officially listed price for the top column of the Weixin edition was three thousand yuan, but he was not charged for being on good terms.

A few days ago executives from the circle visited the company and read the posters on the wall with great interest: "Qianji data is in the service of Baidu, Alibaba, Jingdong, Tencent, Didi and other of the five hundred top global companies and unicorn startups." The executives were full of praise: Your company here belongs to the high-tech industry! Artificial intelligence!

Liu Yangfeng did not give them any direct explanation. He said it was much better not to explain anything.

❹ China wins the championship

Six hundred million US dollars - that's the amount of the most recent Series C funding round from a domestic unicorn artificial intelligence startup. The domestic AI market has been on the rise for several years and all the internet giants you can imagine have positioned themselves in the AI ​​industry. According to Kai-Fu Lee's description, this is “an almost unbreakable economic monopoly, the largest in history”.

The data marking workshops are at the lowest end of the industrial system of artificial intelligence as capillaries. All small companies like Qianji Daten live in the gaps between the mega-companies. Liu Yangfeng is working directly with such mega-companies this year. For each frame that is now opened, his employees receive a minimum of 0.06 yuan, with their piece wages reaching a maximum of 0.1 yuan. The specific price depends on the offers that Liu Yangfeng buys. For the past few years, the industry has had to tacitly acknowledge that Baidu did the best: Pay was quick, you turned in on the first of the month, and by the fifteenth you might have your money in your account. Many small companies rely on Baidu.

In the summer of that year, Baidu's duties were suddenly reduced dramatically: The head of a company in the Changping district of Beijing told me that he had struggled to train more than sixty skilled workers. The boy with the quickest hands made ten thousand yuan in twenty-three days. As a result, there was a rush of too many professional colleagues, prices fell and the tasks suddenly decreased this year. “In a month there are ten days of work. If you want to give people a salary for thirty days, then in the end you only pay on it. ”The boss from Changping didn't think about it at all.

Liu Yangfeng kept a door open. He did not break contact with the companies he had first worked with, such as Momenta and Megvii, but instead distributed his employees to various projects and thus survived the crisis. This included being patient with a well-known company with a very long accounting period. No money was sent for three or four months. “Every time you asked someone else was responsible for the matter. The people who took care of the finances were in a bad mood, and then you were also insulted. ”You could only endure that with long-suffering. The founders themselves now pay for the wages of hundreds of thousands. Liu Yangfeng does not want me to mention the name of this company: "Better you declare me dead in your text than that you annoy others."

In two Beijing companies I saw that the employees were looking seriously at their screens and rattling the keys under their fingers without pausing. In order to use the toilet, it was strictly necessary to temporarily stop a timer so that the work efficiency of the current month could be calculated. When companies in Beijing hire people, their monthly salary is at least four or five thousand yuan. One company went to a trade school in Shandong to recruit new employees. Students should be able to write a hundred characters per minute. In one class, more than forty students took the exam and twenty of them did not make it through the first round. The recruiting teacher stayed at the school for a week and found that one of the male students whose test scores were in the top five was acting very naughty. Every time students romped around, he was there. Before the recruiting teacher left, he crossed him off the list of names: In this job you can't use people who are too lively.

Liu Yangfeng's company looks like an internet café | © Zhang Boran (张博 然) In Jia County, Liu Yangfeng's company looks like a large internet café. There are no exams, just a three-day trial period. There are at least three loudspeakers in the office, from which pop songs can be heard here and there. In fact, all computers and armchairs are second-hand items purchased from an internet café. Even if you sit on these sofa chairs for a long time, you don't get back pain, and at lunchtime you can also lie down flat and take a nap. The sofa chairs originally cost over four hundred yuan each, but Liu Yangfeng bought them second-hand and didn't pay a hundred yuan for them.

In Liu Yangfeng's office, there are always employees who sleep on the sofa chairs. The company doesn't need Foxconns standards. Liu Yangfeng says that local rents and wages are lower than in Beijing anyway, and if everyone works a little less then it is also possible to hire a few more people. “In Beijing they do the work with twenty people, I can do the work with twenty-five. With fewer employees, the psychological pressure is high and the error rate high, and there are far higher rework costs. "

When companies in Beijing hire people, the monthly salary is at least four to five thousand yuan. The bosses like vocational school students and university students, their "high qualities" are a guarantee of efficiency. Most company employees in Jia County, on the other hand, have graduated from lower or upper middle school. None of the three founders of Qianji Data has ever studied at the university. “Vocational school students are proud, they stay with us for three months at the most, then they feel that the job does not suit their talents.” As far as the setting up of frames is concerned says Liu Yangfeng, "all people are the same".

During this year, Liu Yangfeng often received project inspectors and scientists from Beijing. These included many graduates from Tsinghua University, Peking University, and other famous schools. They lived in a hotel near the company. The previous times they had agreed to meet at nine o'clock. Liu Lei, the other founder of the company, waited in the foyer at 8:30 a.m. He called them because he wanted to eat pasta with them. He finally heard on the phone that they were angry. Only then did he realize that the inspectors were all still in their beds. “You from Beijing have a keen sense of time. You meet at exactly the time you have agreed to meet. ”Now he always appears at 8:55 am.

In addition, the younger inspectors had no love for meat or alcohol. The company had invited to the area's most famous mutton pot restaurant, which Liu Lei introduced as the most popular restaurant among local executives. With the result that a skinny technology nerd looked with an unwilling expression at the table with meat dishes: "By a light meal I meant that we had a little vegetables and that was it."

All of these high school scholars are talented the AI ​​industry market, and even engineers in the lowest positions get an annual salary of 300,000 to 500,000 yuan. Every time Liu Yangfeng drives to a client's company, he sees only young technology nerds everywhere. He thinks the educational background is not that important. “The ones who can do it the most are interns, including students, but also some middle school students.” When I mention some researchers and developers, he asks me, “Tell me, they can make a million a year?” That question beyond the imagination of both of us.

The results of the Common Objects in Context (COCO) competition in Munich were announced on September 9th, 2018: Teams from China had taken all first places.

One discipline of the competition said: "The annotations of COCO include the segmentation of practical examples in eighty object categories, the element segmentation in ninety-one categories and the key point recognition of human examples, where each image has five captions." It was tested whether the computers could identify the said “trash cans”, “carpets” or “ladders, movable”. The client company of Qianji Daten came in first place.

Liu Yangfeng forwarded the message, adding "Congratulations ...".

Since last year, Liu Yangfeng has had to go to Beijing every month to hold business meetings in the Zhongguancun and Wudaokou areas. At some point that year he suddenly felt like taking a tour of the Tsinghua University grounds. With a rucksack slung around his neck, he ran to the south gate of the university, but was stopped there. The security guard, to whom he didn't look like a student, asked him to show his ID.

Instead of pulling it out of his pocket, Liu Yangfeng turned and left.

❺ Swap portraits for soybean oil

Notice: If you are between eighteen and fifty years old, please walk fifty meters west on the south corner of the Sansu Junction of Xuedian Congregation. There you can pick up a five-liter bottle of edible oil worth fifty-eight yuan or a ten-pound sack of quality rice for free! "

The powerful baritone comes out of the loudspeaker. His call can be heard over and over again through the strong background noise and repeats itself every fifteen seconds.

This summer, Liu Yangfeng's company started collecting data from portraits. When I came to the company, several cameras were set up outside in the hall and you could always see people swinging their heads from left to right with their faces to the camera.

Collections of portraits also serve as training material for artificial intelligence. Since this year, there has suddenly been an increased demand for portrait collections in the domestic AI industry. Large companies have started collecting portrait videos of Chinese people in different lighting - these videos are the same as the photos that are currently tagged, but they are dynamic and are also part of the source material that will be tagged in the future.

This has become a new business opportunity, says Liu Yangfeng. Several companies in Henan, Yunnan and some other provinces vied for this job. In first and second tier cities, it is almost impossible to work on such a portrait collection because it takes at least forty-five minutes to take a picture and the purchase price is one hundred yuan. If one subtracts the operating costs, then under no circumstances can the remaining sum be used to attract volunteers.

In Jia County, however, different rules of the game apply: Liu Yangfeng's company has a branch in the rural community of Xuedian, which is below the county seat. Boxes and boxes full of rice, soybean oil and toilet paper pile up in front of the entrance. Under the pretext of free gifts, the residents of the rural community are attracted to make themselves available for the portrait collection.

Come here for a portrait and we'll give you rice or soybean oil | © Zhang Boran (张博 然) When he sees the soybean oil at the entrance, an almost fifty-year-old man with a stubble hairstyle enters the branch.

"What are you doing here?"

"Come here for a portrait and we'll give you rice or soybean oil."

"A portrait for what purpose?"

“For an intelligent entry control. You see, in some office buildings, schools, and posh residential complexes, the doors open as soon as the faces of people entering are scanned. But in some cases the lighting is insufficient and therefore the doors remain closed. This problem should be solved. "

As soon as the word entry control is mentioned, the man nods to show that he has understood. But when he hears that it will take over forty minutes, he hesitates for a moment.

"Take a tour for about an hour, then you can pick up a bottle of oil, isn't that nice?" - "Hmm ..." - The man thinks that is correct and receives a QR code .

Liu Yangfeng, Liu Lei and the other company founder Li Yabei are very familiar with these forms of rural doctorate.

In 2015, they had to fund a financial services app in a rush, so they urgently needed registered users. Within half a year, everyone formed their own marketing team and was disseminating a lot of information about digital financial services like crazy.

At that time, Liu Yangfeng rushed to the countryside to look for cell phone companies in the villages of the rural community. He sent group text messages at 0.005 yuan per text message to inform the farmers that they would receive free washing powder the next day - a five-pound pack of washing powder would be given for registering a user. In rural communities, residents have high demands, so it turned into a bucket of detergent. Most of the washing powder was from the Tide brand. Five pounds of real tide cost between thirty and forty yuan. For the imitation product, which he had delivered in several truckloads, the average cost of a package was only six yuan, while the counterfeit liquid laundry detergent "Blue Moonlight" was one yuan more expensive than "Tide".

In order to use the same method there, several employees drove through Henan, Anhui and Shandong. They did not head for the provincial capitals or any cities at the prefecture level, but only operated their marketing in the district towns and villages. “In fact, the farmers all knew it (the washing powder) was fake, but they didn't care. If you were to choose larger cities for this cause, you would not necessarily be successful even with ten sacks of washing powder given away. "

For several people, this was also the first time they came into contact with facial recognition. The advertising staff had brought their smartphones, which could be used to remove all data. You set up a connection to the WLAN, switched the phone off briefly and then on again, and all previous information on it was completely deleted, including the model number of the phone displayed in the system had changed. A farmer entered his ID number, took a picture with his cell phone camera, and that was taken as confirmation that it had worked. For every successful registration of a user, the marketing team could earn a bonus of sixty dollars. “At that time the profits were very high. Hundreds of people did it on the side in one day. If there were many, then up to ten thousand a day. "

In contrast to this, names and ID cards are no longer required when entering facial images, you just have to take a video recording of the head. The requirements are much simpler, but Liu Yangfeng and his employees can also earn less money for it: The purchase price for an admission is one hundred yuan, from which the bonus for the participant and their own personnel expenses must be deducted, so that on average only twenty for each Yuan merit come. A maximum of fifty people can be photographed per day. Compared to app promotion, that was a downright thankless job.

At this moment, video recordings are being made in all rooms on the ground floor and the first floor in the branch of the rural community of Xuedian. The farmers look into the camera and swing their heads at the instructions of the employees: "Left ...", "Right ..." "Turn your head ...". Then they also have to "take off the glasses", "put on the sunglasses", "put on lipstick" ... A corpulent middle-aged woman, in coordination with the instructions, puts on round frame glasses in Harry Potter style, which looks particularly strange .

Everyone needs to be filmed in strong light, low light, and various other situations. While waiting in line, a woman starts knitting a sweater just outside the entrance to the room while the children of the people waiting run around downstairs in the house. In the afternoon, more people slowly come and the “message” is repeated every fifteen seconds. The company is as loud and noisy as in a market.

After forty minutes, the man with the stubble is finished with the recordings. He first takes a sack of rice and then asks where he can pick up the liquid detergent.

I learned that one of the recruits came back less than twenty minutes after being given a bottle of liquid laundry detergent, bringing along two older sisters in their forties. He enthusiastically led the two of them to movement training, where they were supposed to turn their necks together in front of an employee. "Oh, I can't." One of the nurses suffered from a degenerative change in her cervical spine and was therefore unable to rotate her neck more than halfway.

Annoyed, she stepped aside. She had come here for nothing and not particularly happy about it.

A few days ago in Jia County town, anyone who was photographed could get fifty yuan in cash. In the rural community of Xuedian, those fifty yuan are converted into oil and rice that cost far less. Liu Yangfeng explains this by saying that if you give money directly to farmers, they believe you are a fraud. Two days later he gives me another reason: In the rural community they have a cooperation partner with whom they have to share everything. The other party is responsible for the recruitment. “You have a lot of friends there and know many village chiefs and village party secretaries personally. You are therefore allowed to advertise with large loudspeakers to help us find people. "

When Qianji Data was founded, the three founders assumed they would only be able to run the company for three or five years. Five years was the longest time they could imagine. Today, however, the company is at least able to survive. Everyone in the media is debating the possibility that artificial intelligence will replace human labor. In Jia County, however, the work of frame drawing will not be replaced by machines in the short term. In addition to faces, vehicles, 3D cloud maps and voices, says Liu Yangfeng, his employees also enter all sorts of different samples. On these samples, faces would look different “on rainy days, on days with snow, on dark days and on days with lots of clouds. And on the images that are used for autonomous driving, the urban buildings also look different in different places. "

How to mark the dynamic portraits now collected in the future and who will mark them, Liu Yangfeng does not know either. You are and will remain the side that takes on the tasks passively, and all meta-information in the image packages sent to you have been messed up and cannot be assigned. No Qianji Data computer has a hard drive. Rather, the whole office is connected to a server, and as soon as the images are marked, they are uploaded directly. There is no way to copy them with a USB stick or other methods.

On the last day of the interview, the photographer wanted Liu Yangfeng's face to appear on a screen, and the employees were asked to mark a few spots on it. But they let us know that this was not possible: He would get all the pictures packed and sent from Beijing and would not have the authority to insert new pictures.

That same day, the Xuedian Rural Congregation branch collected only thirty-seven new portraits, twenty of women and seventeen of men, far from many.

Just before the last people who were being recorded with left, they were stopped by an employee: “WeChat can be used to help us send out advertisements. If you take part, you get a detergent. "

One of the stopped men froze, not knowing how to send advertisements on WeChat. The employee took his mobile phone, invited himself as a WeChat friend and finally sent him the advertising text directly. After opening the text input window for the circle of friends, the following was inserted:

“An important announcement: Company X has recently started collecting facial portraits in the rural community of Xuedian. Participants can receive five liters of branded cooking oil or ten pounds of quality rice. Scope of application: The data collection is used without exception for scientific research, intelligent door locks, entrance controls for small residential areas and other areas. Note: This activity does not invade personal privacy, real name or ID is not required. Do not worry, dear friends, take heart and come. Time and the number of people allowed are limited, first come, first served ...! "

The font size on the man's cell phone was set to maximum and the characters covering the entire screen were now the first message for his friends on WeChat.

He took the cell phone back and looked at it, but he didn't care what the content of the text was. He picked up a bucket of soybean oil and went home.
 
LIU min

LIU Min is a Chinese journalist and writes for GQ China, among others.

Translation: Frank Meinshausen from the Chinese

Copyright: © GQ China 2019