In Hangzhou, a network of surveillance cameras are watching every vehicle on the streets -- before feeding it to a computing system that analyzes the footage to issue commands meant to reduce traffic.

The platform, City Brain, is made by Alibaba’s cloud computing arm Alibaba Cloud, and adopted by six local governments in China including the eastern cities of Hangzhou and Suzhou.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)

City Brain is used mainly to improve traffic flows and incident response, using data provided by local traffic police, government authorities, and other tech companies like facial recognition startup Face++.

The system uses a network of surveillance cameras. (Picture: Alibaba)

Traffic police in Hangzhou -- Alibaba’s home city -- have given City Brain power to take control of some traffic lights, so that it can change them when needed for maximum efficiency. Alibaba says it’s now controlling 24 traffic lights in downtown Hangzhou and 104 in the Xiaoshan District.

Alibaba says that with City Brain, “the scattered and seemingly useless data is now put into greater use,” and boasts that the system has helped increase traffic speed by 15% to 20% in Hangzhou.

City Brain has shortened the time for an ambulance to reach the scene of an accident by 50%, Alibaba claims. (Picture: Reuters)

China has a vast network of surveillance cameras and is building a facial recognition database, which troubles privacy advocates. They worry about the amount of data the Chinese government has on them -- and what they plan to do with it.

Alibaba is hoping to take City Brain outside China. In January, the company announced that it will also launch the project in Malaysia to help "make its cities smart", starting with Kuala Lumpur.