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    In Hebei, AI Tech Reunites Abducted Son With Family After 25 Years

    Xie Qingshuai was abducted when he was still an infant from his home in 1999. His devastated family spent the next two decades searching for him.

    Almost 25 years after he was abducted as an infant, a man was reunited with his birth family in the northern Hebei province with the help of a new AI-powered facial recognition technology.  

    Xie Qingshuai was abducted in January 1999, when he was left alone at home in Xingtai City for a brief period while his mother went grocery shopping. His devastated family spent the next decades searching for him, first throughout Xingtai, then to neighboring provinces, and eventually nationwide. 

    The family’s quest made headlines in 2022 when they offered a 200,000 yuan ($28,000) reward for any useful clues about their son and one million yuan for finding him. 

    On Nov. 27, local police in Hebei, using software developed by Beijing-based AI company Deepglint, successfully located Xie Qingshuai. The breakthrough led to an emotional reunion last week in Xingtai, where Xie Kefeng, the father, embraced his now 25-year-old son, who’d been working in interior renovation in the southwestern city of Chengdu. 

    An emotional Xie Kefeng told domestic media, “I have been waiting for this day for 25 years.” The family received DNA results on Nov. 28 confirming that Xie Qingshuai was indeed their lost son. Overwhelmed by the turn of events, Qingshuai only said that he still needed time to process the news. 

    In a post on the microblogging platform Weibo, Deepglint explained how their “cross-age face comparison algorithm” was pivotal in finding Xie Qingshuai. 

    “Most abducted children, separated from their families at a young age, undergo significant changes in appearance, posing a challenge for police investigations,” the company stated. 

    Their algorithm, based on genetic relationships, is designed to identify high facial feature similarities between relatives. This technology, even with limited information on the missing person’s current appearance, effectively narrows down and ranks potential matches to enhance the search.

    “In Xie’s case, we directly used photos of the couple and their eldest son for a comparison, and found Xie Qingshuai among the top five,” said the company. They added that Qingshuai is the fourth individual they’ve helped police find in the past six months. 

    In recent years, the use of facial recognition technology, along with big data and artificial intelligence, has become a crucial tool in locating abducted and missing individuals in China. 

    In 2017, tech giant Baidu collaborated with “Baby Come Home,” a leading family-finding platform, to refine its cross-age face comparison system using over 20,000 pieces of data from the platform. 

    The following year, the National Rescue and Search Network, under the Ministry of Civil Affairs, teamed up with Baidu to introduce a facial comparison function, enabling users to upload photos of missing relatives for potential matches. Tencent’s YouTu Lab developed a similar technology to help police efforts in finding missing persons. 

    According to a report in China Daily, police in the southeastern Fujian province have found more than 500 missing individuals within six months of implementing YouTu Lab’s facial recognition system.

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: Visuals from IC, reedited by Sixth Tone)