In the future, China will shut down a factory before it even pollutes — or so it hopes, as it deploys big data in the fight against bad air.
In Beijing’s environmental bureau, a team of engineers tend to giant mainframe computers that keep a watchful eye on the city’s pollution.
Using everything from factories’ infrared profiles to social media posts, the machines can call up three-day pollution forecasts with resolution of up to one kilometre squared and detect trends up to 10 days out.
Drones, satellites, sensors
The computer program, developed by IBM, is one of several high-tech measures, ranging from drones and satellites to remote sensors, that China is deploying to deal with its chronic pollution.
It seeks to solve an incongruous reality: In a country where security cameras are ubiquitous and Communist authorities operate a vast public surveillance system, accurate information about pollution remains scarce — even to officials.
As a result, Beijing and its neighbouring provinces “can’t coordinate joint defence and joint control” of their anti-smog efforts, leaving rogue companies to “secretly discharge and secretly dump”, said Chen Long, chief executive officer of Encanwell, which develops air quality monitoring and early warning systems.