Emerging Tech

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare

The world’s smartest prison — boasting tracking wristbands and drug-detecting robots — sounds like the pitch for a sci-fi movie along the lines of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. In fact, it’s a real thing currently being tested at three correctional facilities in Hong Kong. Should all go well, it could be rolled out under a plan to make all such correctional institutes into “smart prisons.”

A variety of smart gadgets are being explored as part of the scheme. One is a wristband that will make it easy to monitor the location of prisoners at all times. It will also keep tabs on heart rates and alert staff if one becomes irregular. In the event that prisoners try to remove the wristband, it will trigger an alarm.

Another surveillance tool being put through its paces is an A.I.-augmented video surveillance system, designed to detect certain behavior behind bars. For instance, it can supposedly recognize self-harming behaviors, fighting, and whether a person has collapsed. Twelve of these security cameras are currently being tested in male dormitories at Pik Uk Prison in Hong Kong.

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing piece of technology being explored (and one that takes away a job that few humans would want) is a robot whose purpose is to look for drugs in poop. It turns out that many prisoners try to smuggle drugs into prison by swallowing them and then pooping them out later. At present, human prison officers get the glamorous job of examining inmates feces using wooden sticks to break it up in their search for contraband. Instead, the robot arm will use jets of water to break down the poop, looking for illicit drugs.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Commissioner of Correctional Services Danny Woo Ying-ming said that: “The Correctional Services Department strives to enhance efficiency of custodial operations and security of correctional institutions through the application of innovation and technology, while protecting the safety of officers and persons in custody.”

This isn’t the only smart prison technology we’ve covered. In the U.S., some prisons have invested in a smart drone detection system, designed to crack down on contraband by monitoring suspicious drone traffic in the area. As far as we know, however, U.S. prisons have yet to dive into the world of poop-testing robots or smart wearables for its prison population.

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