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For the last several months, a city at the heart of Silicon Valley has been training artificial intelligence to recognize tents and cars with people living inside in what experts believe is the first experiment of its kind in the United States. Last July, San Jose issued an open invitation to technology companies to mount cameras on a municipal vehicle that began periodically driving through the city’s district 10 in December, collecting footage of the streets and public spaces. The images are fed into computer vision software and used to train the companies’ algorithms to detect the unwanted objects, according to interviews and documents the Guardian obtained through public records requests.

Some of the capabilities the pilot project is pursuing – such as identifying potholes and cars parked in bus lanes – are already in place in other cities. But San Jose’s foray into automated surveillance of homelessness is the first of its kind in the country, according to city officials and national housing advocates. Local outreach workers, who were previously not aware of the experiment, worry the technology will...