Friday, March 23, 2018

"China’s Surveillance State: AI Startups, Tech Giants Are At The Center Of The Government’s Plans"

So, same question we asked yesterday:

Is It Ethical To Deal With Facebook? "Facebook Advertisers Start Pulling Out" (FB)
(in Edward G. Robinson Voice) Where's your ESG now, see?*
Just as we saw with the hubbub surrounding Harvey Weinstein and his predations, in Facebook we have an open secret that was convenient to ignore as long as the money was slopping around and the stock was heading up.

And nary a peep out of the Environmental, Social And Governance (ESG) crowd about how Facebook earns its money....
From CB Insights:
In part 1 of our China in AI series, we dig into patents, earnings transcripts, startup data, and government documents to detail the growth of surveillance tech in China.

Facial recognition technology is penetrating deep into China. Cameras track passengers at railway stations, identify homeless people on the streets, and even monitor worshippers in state-approved churches.
China’s nation-wide surveillance project, named Skynet, began as early as 2005. But recent advances in artificial intelligence have given the state’s surveillance efforts a boost.

The government’s ambitious plans hinge on three legs: support from big tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent, strong startup partnerships, and elaborately crafted government policies favoring national security over privacy.

In part 1 of our China in AI series, we dig into patents, private market activity, government documents, and public company data to detail the growth of surveillance tech in China.

Table of Contents

China’s plan of action

Unlike the US, China has been vocal about its plans to become an AI-first state — and particularly vocal about how it will put the tech to use to monitor its citizens.

A 2017 documentary co-produced by the Communist Party claimed the country had the largest network of CCTV cameras – 20M – in the world.

Last year, around 55 cities were part of a plan called Xio Liange or “sharp eyes.” Footage from surveillance cameras in public and private properties will be processed centrally to monitor people and events.

Media reports suggest that intelligence collected from the video footage may eventually power China’s Social Credit System, a government plan announced in 2014 to rate the “trustworthiness” of its citizens.

A simple keyword search on worldwide patent database Espacenet shows how much emphsais China has put on surveillance. Over 530 patents related to video surveillance and surveillance cameras were published in China in 2017 alone, compared to just 96 in the United States (based on keyword searches of title and abstract).

China has also seen a rise in facial recognition patents, with 900+ patents published last year. Applicants included government-supported academic institutions like Shandong University and South China Tech, as well as big tech companies and startups whose clientele includes government agencies.
(Note: The patent filing process involves a significant time-lag before the publishing of patent applications.)

Deep govt-startup ties

As the government adds a layer of artificial intelligence to its surveillance, startups are playing a key role in providing the government with the underlying technology.
For instance, facial recognition is already at use in many railway stations for ID verification. Now, AI-enabled smart glasses developed by startup LLvision will be used to help authorities spot criminals.

LLvision builds smart glasses that resemble Google Glass. In 2018, it launched a new product, GLXSS ME, for industrial AI applications.
Using Intel’s Movidius Myriad vision processing chip, LLvision matches faces with a database of known and wanted criminals stored on the device. By storing images at the “edge” (aka on the device), as opposed to sending images to a central server on the cloud, the device can make IDs faster.

A simple keyword search on the CB Insights platform for computer vision deals in China shows the sudden explosion of interest in 2017.

The most well-funded computer vision companies are SenseTime, Face++, and CloudWalk.
CloudWalk received a $301M grant from the Guangzhou Municipal Government in Q4’17. Its facial recognition technology is deployed across several banks and airports, including the state-owned Agricultural Bank of China.

Startup Megvii (which develops the Face++ facial recognition platform) raised a $460M round – the largest to a computer vision startup in 2017 – led by the Chinese state government’s venture capital fund, with participation from the Russian government as well....MUCH MORE