China: a pioneer in AI is tracking Muslim minority groups
By 2018, the Chinese government had installed close to 200 million surveillance cameras that use facial recognition systems and artificial intelligence to track Muslim minority groups in the country.
In June 2017, China promised to become a world leader in Artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. It’s 2019 and the country has already achieved its goal. While this comes as a celebration for the country’s government, its people cannot participate in the celebration
China has paired Artificial Intelligence with facial recognition systems to determine people’s ethnicities among crowds.
China pioneering in AI
Seattle-based, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence said on 13 March that China has already surpassed the United States in the most number of published AI papers. This conclusion was achieved after researchers analysed over two million academic papers by the end of 2018.
Keeping in mind that quantity cannot be a determining factor to assess the quality of the papers published, the papers were ranked by the number of citations that each paper received. Additionally, they studied how many of the most-cited papers came from each country.
Source: Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence
The US's share in the top ten percent of papers declined from 47 percent in 1982 to 29 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, China’s papers have reached an all-time high of 26.5 percent in 2018. “There is every indication of this trend continuing,” said the report.
Chinese AI industries are giants
Simultaneously, the AI industry in China has boomed. Gen Market Insights’ 2018 report on Global Face Recognition Device Market Research Report surveyed facial recognition devices globally. According to the report, China is the largest market for face recognition.
As of 2017, China is the largest consumption area, accounting for 29.29 percent. It is estimated that China will have nearly 45 percent of the global facial recognition market share by 2023. Currently, China’s AI giant Cloudwalk ranks first in the world with the highest amount of market shares.
Chinese companies behind AI software like SenseTime, Yitu, Cloudwalk, and Megvii are valued at over one billion dollars each in 2018.
In fact, one company is making its mark on China’s rival, the United States. Hikvision is a Chinese manufacturer and the world's largest supplier of video surveillance products. It has supplied the New York City’s police department with security cameras and facial recognition software to monitor citizens.
AI industries, government and surveillance
By 2018, the Chinese government had installed close to 200 million surveillance cameras across the country. This amounts to roughly one camera per seven citizens.
China has two major surveillance programmes, namely Pingan Chengshi—Sky Net programme—and Xue Liang – Sharp eye programme. The Sky Net programme caters to surveillance across cities and the Sharp Eye programme focuses on surveillance across rural areas in China.
Security cameras in Beijing, China
The Sky Net programme claims to have installed 170 million cameras across China in 2018. It said that another 400 million units will be installed by 2020. The government believes that such severe surveillance technologies will help in “fighting crime and preventing possible disasters.”
But the truth is far from what the government claims. On 13 March 2019, Victor Gevers, co-founder of non-profit organisation GDI foundation revealed on Twitter that SenseNets’ tracking data on millions of people were fully accessible to anyone.
There is this company in China named SenseNets. They make artificial intelligence-based security software systems for face recognition, crowd analysis, and personal verification. And their business IP and millions of records of people tracking data is fully accessible to anyone. pic.twitter.com/Zaf6w5502i— Victor Gevers (@0xDUDE) February 13, 2019
After Gevers’ tweet, the company pulled any information on its cooperation with the police from its website.
An NYT article revealed that Chinese start-ups scanned 500,000 faces in a month to track if members belonged to a Muslim minority group known as the Uighurs. For years, China has undergone severe criticism for holding ethnic Muslims in detention camps in its western regions.
This is the first example of a government using AI for racial profiling. On 12 March 2018, The James Foundation reported on China’s domestic security spending. It showed that in the country’s western region of Xinjiang, there was a 92.8 percent increase in domestic security spending. Xinjiang is home to the majority of the Uighurs in the country.
Recently, through the Sky Net programme, the country is targeting wealthy eastern cities such as Hangzhou, Wenzhou, and Fujian to track and control data pertaining to the Muslim minorities. The report said, “Using a process called machine learning, engineers feed data to artificial intelligence systems to train them to recognize patterns or traits. In the case of profiling, they would provide thousands of labeled images of both Uighurs and non-Uighurs. That would help generate a function to distinguish the ethnic group.”
The concept of “intelligent communities” entered the Chinese government in the early 2010s. In 2013, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology outlined methods to incorporate high-tech infrastructure in municipalities for surveillance purposes. By 2018, Chinese AI industries were the largest producers and consumers of video surveillance systems.
China’s usage of facial recognition technologies is alarming. While it is heading towards an environment where every two persons are watched by a single camera, the applications of such findings continue to raise eyebrows globally.