(English) «Russia has traditionally been amongst the pioneers,» Eduard Lysenko, Minister of the Government of Moscow, tells me, «thanks to a talented workforce and a long tradition of mathematics. In our minds, we have developed a number of breakthrough solutions which will allow Russia to stay amongst the top AI countries.»
Lysenko heads up Moscow’s Department of Information Technologies, and this ‘exclusive’ interview has come about because he wants to talk about 5G and the city’s deployment plans. He knows that I want to talk about citywide facial recognition and Moscow’s decision on deploying a Huawei 5G network given the security fears raised by the U.S.
Somewhat ironically, it soon transpires that Moscow’s surveillance playbook could be right out of Beijing.
East is East
During the soccer World Cup last year, Russia famously deployed facial recognition to help police the event. «The facial recognition system enabled the police to detain 12 criminals from the federal list of wanted persons and 8 pickpockets, as well as 60 football fans who were banned from the matches.»
All change in 2019, though, when Moscow plans to catapult the city into the Chinese Super League for facial recognition. «At present,» Lysenko explains, «the facial recognition system has been fitted in a pilot mode to 1,500 video streams, representing 1.5% of Moscow’s 167,000 video cameras. This year, we intend to increase the number to 105,000, meaning all the cameras installed in public areas to optimize the use of the system.»
Moscow already makes heavy use of its citywide surveillance system, which is «now used to investigate 70% of crimes in Moscow. Recently the video surveillance was also used to find the person who stole Arkhip Kunidzhi’s painting from the State Tretyakov Gallery.»
The system captures 1.2 billion hours of video each year, issues 45,000 traffic fines each day, and has helped power a unified system that the authorities claim reduces the arrivals time for first responders to an event by 20%.
But it isn’t just CCTV. Remember the stories put out by China’s PR machine, of police officers equipped with AI smart-glasses? Well, Moscow plans the same. «In future, 5G will allow us to expand the system with new devices like facial recognition glasses for police officers. We are testing augmented reality glasses with embedded facial recognition capabilities together with Ntechlab company, which is known for creating the facial recognition tool FindFace.»
FindFace is a highly accurate facial recognition engine, the standout in a country known for its prowess in the space. But Lysenko also talks of international collaboration, with China being the obvious place to start.
«Our task is to use smart video surveillance systems to monitor urban processes and ensure citizens’ safety. Our CCTV system uses recognition technologies developed by Russian companies. Of course, we are interested in exchanging experience with our foreign colleagues, including China, which has advanced in the deployment of the facial recognition system more than other countries.»
5G — is Huawei in or out?
Which brings the discussion to 5G. Moscow has already played around with 5G and plans full-scale pilots through 2019. «During the 2018 World Cup,» Lysenko tells me, «MegaFon used Nokia 5G equipment to demonstrate VR Broadcast technology. Fifty people used VR glasses to watch a broadcast. Stadium cameras broadcast to a 5G cell tower, and the cell tower transmitted to smartphones connected to the VR glasses, using up to 35 Mbps per device.» Now, though, «MegaFon has said they have agreed to develop and implement 5G standards in Russia with Huawei.»
And that brings the discussion to the concerns raised by the United States and the United Kingdom, in particular, about the security risks associated with Huawei, including the allegations that the company might facilitate intelligence collection for Beijing. On this subject, Lysenko’s response is short and to the point. «The Russian Federation has strict information security regulations which we always follow.» I suspect Russia and Washington have different views of the threat to their respective national security from Huawei’s alleged intelligence links with Beijing.
Huawei won’t get it all, in any case. «There are other companies with other partnerships,» Lysenko says. «Russian telecommunication operators will choose 5G vendors for pilot zones based on their procurement policies and are now preparing technical standards for 5G technology implementation. After that, the process will accelerate. We cooperate with many equipment providers, including Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm and IBM.»
And what about Russian equipment manufacturers?
«The decisions are being made by the [network operators] and not the government,» but «we hope that local Russian vendors will come to the pilot projects in order to demonstrate their progress.»
The intention is for the 2019 pilots to build on the success of the World Cup trial, with «full commercial use of 5G expected in 2020-2022.» The 2019 pilots will target key areas in Moscow. «These areas fall into two main categories,» Lysenko explains. «Crowded places, like parks and central streets, where consumer technology 5G tests and demonstrations will be held, and then innovation centers and technoparks, where technology companies will be able to test industrial 5G.»
And for Lysenko, this is all about industry and automation. Moscow’s IT Department «has its own AI division that works on implementing AI in city management. For example, the automation of document classification and robot operators processing 40% of all requests to the city’s call center — the robot is integrated with the city information systems and can provide answers to 62 typical questions, it is able to recognize emotions and self-learn.»
In addition to the usual university research links, where the city is «cooperating with world-class universities such as Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and National University of Science and Technology ‘MISiS’,» there is a recognition of the need to engage with industry to succeed. «The city is driving innovations by means of creating the infrastructure for the growth of technology companies, including technoparks and system of financial support for companies. We are also supporting big companies like Yandex exchanging with them the data needed for the development of new services.»
Driverless goes live, healthcare is next
Last month, Russia’s internet giant Yandex announced that it was «joining forces» with Hyundai Mobis on autonomous cars. «Yandex’s self-driving cars have been successfully driving on the streets of Moscow, Tel Aviv and Las Vegas,» Arkady Volozh, Yandex CEO explained at the time, «which means that the fleet can be expanded to drive anywhere. It took us just two years to go from the first basic tests to a full-fledged public robotaxi service. Now, thanks to our agreement with Hyundai Mobis, we will be able to move even faster.»
«Since December 2018,» Lysenko tells me now, «all autonomous car developers can submit their requests for testing in Moscow. After lab testing, it is possible to perform outdoor testing. So far the most successful is Yandex, whose autonomous car has already been tested on Moscow streets. Yandex is also offering autonomous taxi service in the territory of Skolkovo. About 30 other companies have the potential to start testing in the nearest future, including KAMAZ, whose autonomous bus and autonomous truck are now at the stage of lab testing.»
And it isn’t just cars. «Moscow’s Government and Russian developer Cognitive Technologies are jointly developing a fully-autonomous tram for Russia. The tram is now being tested in the depot. It will be soon put into pilot operation on one route, with the driver and without passengers. A fully autonomous tram is expected by 2021-22. Moscow Metro has recently announced that autonomous trains may appear on the Circle Line in about 5 years. At the moment the Moscow Metro is analyzing international experience and searching for solutions suitable for Moscow.»
Beyond transportation, the area Lysenko wants to focus on is healthcare, an area where 5G and the IoT will bring wholesale change. «Shortly after the World Cup,» Lysenko explains, «Moscow’s Departments of Information Technologies and Healthcare, together with a telecommunication operator, organized a demonstration of 5G possibilities for healthcare. Huawei CPE was used for the performance of remote ultrasound diagnostics and genetic sequencing. The test showed that response time was enough for comfortable remote work of the health specialists.»
Selling the vision
Given its experience at the World Cup, Moscow has some real-world 5G data to help guide deployments and manage expectations. «The 5G tests showed a maximum speed of 7.5 Gbps in one sector and latency of 4 ms. Theoretically, the 5G record in standard circumstances can be 35 Gbps, meaning less than three seconds to download an HD-movie.»
That said, testing in the U.S. suggests that some limited 5G trials and vendor claims might have set false expectations for what consumers can expect when networks actually go live. Moscow still has the World Cup 5G equipment which will be reused in the pilots. «The network is currently out of operation. But the equipment hasn’t been removed and will become a part of a pilot 5G network in November.» It will be interesting to see how data speeds compare.
Moscow is a city with a population size similar to that of Los Angeles, bigger than both Paris and London. «Our goals,» Lysenko tells me, «are the same as city managers in New York or Bejing, to use technology to provide citizens with better services and make the city work in a more efficient way. To achieve this goal, we freely exchange ideas and experience in smart city development, including AI applications, with representatives of other cities worldwide. We broadly use public platforms like GitHub – to share our algorithms with developers around the world.»
And he sees the reception for the grand plan landing well with a city where 75% of citizens already use online public services and more than 2 million people are registered on an electronic voting system that can target elections to specific city issues. «Moscow citizens are in general curious about new technologies,» Lysenko tells me, «and they are waiting for commercial operation of 5G just like all users in the world.»
The response of those citizens to 105,000 facial recognition cameras though, citywide, remains to be seen.