Yi Zeng, author of “The Beijing AI Principles,” warns that the government’s unfettered sale of surveillance programs could jeopardize democracy in several countries. (Source: The Atlantic magazine/Zhou Na)

China Sells Orwellian AI Capabilities to Totalitarian Countries for Controlling Dissent

It’s common knowledge that China is in a race with the United States to create superior AI dominance. It’s also well known by researchers that China uses its facial recognition technology and other AI programs to track the beleagured Muslim Uighurs, protesters and any individual it deems a threat. Visiting foreigners, too, are spied on and their data is tracked. China’s leader Xi Jinping, effectively a dictator, has no qualms about using technology to his greatest advantage.

“(China’s leader) Xi’s pronouncements on AI have a sinister edge. Artificial intelligence has applications in nearly every human domain, from the instant translation of spoken language to early viral-outbreak detection. But Xi also wants to use AI’s awesome analytical powers to push China to the cutting edge of surveillance. He wants to build an all-seeing digital system of social control, patrolled by precog algorithms that identify potential dissenters in real time.

But what The Atlantic magazine recently uncovered is that the country is becoming the biggest exporter of technological oppression in the world as it sells the technology that’s previously been wielded against its own people to governments that want to control dissenters in their countries.

According to computer scientist Yi Zeng, author of 2019 book “The Beijing AI Principles,” a manifesto on AI’s potential to interfere with autonomy, dignity and privacy, the widespread sale of AI tools has been underway for the past few years. Authoritarian governments in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Mongolia, Serbia and Zimbabwe have all purchased technology that will help track and control people in their borders.

“The country is now the world’s leading seller of AI-powered surveillance equipment,” Atlantic reporter Ross Anderson writes. “In Malaysia, the government is working with Yitu, a Chinese AI start-up, to bring facial-recognition technology to Kuala Lumpur’s police as a complement to Alibaba’s City Brain platform. Chinese companies also bid to outfit every one of Singapore’s 110,000 lampposts with facial-recognition cameras.”

The misuse of AI to keep people from democratic activities appears to be advancing rapidly, with no interference in sight by an international body, such as the United Nations. With millions of surveillance cameras in place, it’s clear the country has the ability to track anyone in the public realm, and it used that technology to score individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak.

While the United States is expected to maintain its AI superiority for at least another decade, China is profiting from the sale of its technology and investing more into the race than ever so that it can be state-controlled, according to the story. Previously, much of the best of China’s AI talent immigrated to America, but with U.S. visa restrictions put in place by the Trump Administration, that’s no longer the case.

The lengthy Atlantic article will appear in print in September.

read more at theatlantic.com