China's Baidu Used A.I. to Reunite a Missing Child and His Parents

A Child Went Missing 27 Years Ago. Through Artificial Intelligence, He Found Out Where He Came From

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Fu Gui, a 33-year-old man living in southeast China, sensed there was something amiss about his childhood. He had only vague memories of his early years, before he began a new life with foster parents, and he couldn't remember his original name or hometown. Eight years ago, he uploaded a photo of himself at age 10 onto the website of a charity for missing children, Baobeihuijia, which means "Baby Come Home." And he waited.

In January, about 800 miles to the west in the city of Chongqing, a man named Fu Guangfa submitted a photo of his son at age four to the same charity. The boy had disappeared on his way home from school in 1990, when he was six years old.

Baobeihuijia started working last month with Chinese tech giant Baidu, which, like Google, has its origins in online search but has branched into artificial intelligence as well. Baidu used its facial recognition technology to comb through tens of thousands of photos of missing children, and it flagged similarities the photos of Mr. Fu at age 10 and the missing four-year-old from Chongqing, despite the age gap. A DNA test confirmed the match, said Baidu, which released an account of the case. The company is checking on other possible matches, too.

Mr. Fu was set to meet with his parents this weekend, but a sudden health issue put him in the hospital, so the two sides had their first meeting by video conference, Baidu said. (Baidu is identifying Fu Gui by his birth name only, to protect his privacy; a spokeswoman said he didn't want his foster parents to know about the turn of events.) Many ad agencies and brands have worked with charity Baobeihuijia as well; in 2013, a campaign from J. Walter Thompson Beijing reunited several children with their parents.

Baidu had a big setback recently when its chief scientist, leading A.I. figure Andrew Ng, announced his departure. The company, which has been working on A.I. for six years, says its facial recognition technology has applications at tourist areas, transport hubs and in the online financial sector. It's planning to roll out facial recognition tech at 100 Chinese tourist sites this year to replace entrance tickets.

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Date
Apr 11, 2017
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Baidu
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