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U.S. Government Blacklists Top AI Startups in China

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U.S. Government Blacklists Top AI Startups in China

The United States government has blacklisted several top artificial intelligence startups in China. This action follows the already existing trade blacklist that has been present against China since the beginning of the ongoing trade war. The new developments are a response to the current actions being taken against Muslim minorities in the country. The decision will undoubtedly increase the current tensions between the U.S. and China. 

The new policy will require U.S. government approval for firms who want to buy components from U.S. companies. It was the same tactic used against China in the Huawei Technologies Co Ltd conflict. 

According to the U.S. Government and Department of Commerce, “entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.” 

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has said that the U.S. government will not tolerate the actions that are taking place in the Xinjiang region of China.

Blacklist Comes Days Before Trade Talks Resume  

The new developments come just as trade talks are set to resume between Washington and Beijing in the coming days. 

Companies that are being targeted include some of China’s most important AI startups. Included in the list are Hikvision, a video surveillance gear company with a market value of $42 billion, the $7.5 billion valued ScienceTime, the Alibaba connected Megvii valued at $4 billion, speech recognition specialist iFlytek Co, data recovery company Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co, and facial recognition company Yitu Technology. 

In total, there are 28 entities that the U.S. Commerce Department has added to the blacklist; Eight of them are companies and the other 20 are organizations including local public security bureaus, which have been targeted for their direct role in the ongoing human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced that they will be reviewing their relationship with SenseTime Group Ltd. According to the university, their relationship with the company is to “confront some of the world’s greatest challenges.” The co-founder of SenseTime is MIT graduate Xiao’ou Tang. 

Damage to AI Startups in China

Many of the companies should be able to change over to backup supply chains, but there is still the strong possibility of heavy damage. Research will likely slow down as many of the companies rely on the chips created in the United States, and partnerships with U.S. companies can start to deteriorate or even come to a complete stop. 

Beijing has been largely quiet on the issue, and they will still attend the trade meetings in Washington. However, the companies involved have not been quite like the government. 

According to Hikvision, “Punishing Hikvision, despite these engagements, will deter global companies from communicating with the U.S. government, hurt Hikvision’s U.S. businesses partners and negatively impact the U.S. economy.” 

In a statement released by SenseTime, the company expressed their views on the issue while also claiming they follow all relevant laws in the jurisdictions they operate within. The company also reiterated their commitment to ethics within the AI industry. 

After the announcement of the blacklist, iFlytek fell by 2.7% and Xiamen Meiya by 1.8%. 

With artificial intelligence becoming such a huge part of the global technology market with its enormous potential, it will likely keep becoming a target. It can be expected that the AI industry becomes a tool used against nations and companies, and it will be included in actions such as blacklisting.

 

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Alex McFarland is a historian and journalist covering the newest developments in artificial intelligence.

Regulation

Growing Calls for AI Regulation After Weeks of News Reports

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Growing Calls for AI Regulation After Weeks of News Reports

Over the past few weeks, there have been growing calls for stronger regulation of artificial intelligence (AI). The concern comes after various news stories broke showing the potential abuses of the technology. Now, even more questions are being raised with the release of the European Commission’s (EU) much anticipated white paper on artificial intelligence, which is the first pan-national attempt to regulate AI. Around the same time, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a report on its American Artificial Intelligence Initiative. 

Prior to the release of the EU’s white paper, the Intercept broke a news story regarding leaked internal European Union documents. According to the documents, the EU was considering the creation of a network of facial recognition databases throughout Europe. The national police forces of 10 EU member states produced a report that called for the creation and interconnection of the databases in every member state. Many are worried that the creation of such databases will inevitably be connected with similar ones in the United States, allowing massive amounts of biometric data to be consolidated. Many were expecting the EU’s white paper to propose a ban on facial regulation, but it was not there. 

According to Edin Omanovic, advocacy director for Privacy International,  “This is concerning on a national level and on a European level, especially as some EU countries veer towards more authoritarian governments.”

One of the big news stories over the last few weeks, kicked off by a New York Times investigation in January, has to do with the start-up Clearview AI. The company’s facial recognition app identifies people through the use of a database of images taken from social media. The app compares a photo to the database of over 3 billion pictures coming from sites such as Facebook, Venmo, and Youtube. Once the app finds matches, it responds with links to the site where the photos originally came from. This technology could lead to the discovery of personal details about an individual. According to the report, the app has been used by over 600 law enforcement agencies. While Clearview’s database has over 3 billion images, the FBI’s database only contains 641 million images of US citizens. 

The story has erupted once again with a new report by BuzzFeed News last week. According to the report, the company has considered expanding into more than just law enforcement purposes, with retail, real estate, banking, and international markets being considered. The report also stated that the facial recognition app has already been sold to thousands of organizations across the globe and used by the Justice Department, ICE, Macy’s, Walmart, and the NBA. Perhaps most problematic on the list of clients is a sovereign wealth fund in the United Arab Emirates and thousands of government entities.

The new developments have caused concerns among privacy advocates about potential mass surveillance uses. Another concern is the possibility of inaccuracy with the technology, leading to the law enforcement targeting of innocent individuals. On top of all of the privacy concerns, companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter are threatening legal action. Besides private legal action, at least two United States senators have stated that they intend to probe the company.

An example of the abuse of this technology can be seen within the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The Washington Post reported last week that ICE officials have been permitted to use facial-recognition technology to search through millions of Maryland driver’s license photos, and they can do it without seeking state or court approval. 

According to Harrison Rudolph, a senior associate at Georgetown University Law School’s Center on Privacy and Technology, “ICE is using biometric information in the shadows, without government notice or public approval, to hunt down the most vulnerable people.” 

These are just some of the most public examples of how this technology is being used, but much more is happening behind the scenes. Because of this, there has been an increased call for scrutiny and regulation. Increased transparency, whether willing or through investigative reporting, is bringing many practices to light. Without the public having an understanding of artificial intelligence and what it could mean for the economy, government, law enforcement, surveillance, and every other aspect of society, there is little hope for governments and companies to self-regulate. Society is seeing both the enormous benefits of AI and the massive concerns, with all of it happening too fast for companies, governments, and individuals to keep up. 

 

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Google’s CEO Calls For Increased Regulation To Avoid “Negative Consequences of AI”

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Google's CEO Calls For Increased Regulation To Avoid "Negative Consequences of AI"

Last year saw an increasing amount of attention drawn to the regulation of the AI industry, and this year seems to be continuing the trend. Just recently, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google and Alphabet Inc., supported the regulation of AI at an economic think tank taking place in Brugel.

Pichai’s comments were likely made in anticipation of new EU plans to regulate AI, which will be revealed in a few weeks. It’s possible that the EU regulations could contain policies legally enforcing certain standards for AI used in transportation, healthcare, and other high-risk sectors. The new EU regulations may also require increased transparency regarding AI systems and platforms.

According to Bloomberg, Google has previously tried to challenge antitrust fines and copyright enforcement in the EU. Despite previous attempts to push back against certain regulatory frameworks in Europe, Pichai stated that regulation is welcome as long as it takes “a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities.”

Pichai recently wrote an opinion piece in Financial Times, where he acknowledged that along with many opportunities to improve society, AI also has the potential to be misused. Pichai stated that regulations should help avoid the “negative consequences of AI”, citing abusive use of facial recognition and deepfakes as negative applications of AI. Pichai stated that international alignment is necessary for regulatory principles to work, and as such, there needs to be agreement on core values. Beyond that, Pichai said that it is the responsibility of AI companies like Google to give consideration to how AI can be used in an ethical manner and that this is why Google adopted its own standards for ethical AI use in 2018.

Pichai stated that government regulatory bodies and policies will play an important role in ensuring AI is used ethically, but that these bodies need not start from scratch. Pichai suggests that regulatory entities can look to previously established regulations for inspiration, such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. Pichai also wrote that ethical AI regulation can potentially be both broad and flexible, with regulation providing general guidance that can be tailored for specific implementations in specific AI sectors. Newer technologies like self-driving vehicles will require new rules and policies that weigh benefits and costs against one another, while for more well-tread ground like medical devices, existing frameworks can be a good starting point.

Finally, Pichai stated that Google wants to partner with regulators to develop policies and find solutions that will balance trade-offs, Pichai wrote in Financial Times:

“We want to be a helpful and engaged partner to regulators as they grapple with the inevitable tensions and trade-offs. We offer our expertise, experience and tools as we navigate these issues together.”

While some have applauded Google for taking a stance on the need for regulation to ensure ethical AI usage, the debate continues over the extent to which it’s appropriate that AI companies should be involved with the creation of regulatory frameworks.

As for the upcoming EU regulations themselves, it’s possible that the EU is pursuing a risk-based rules system, which would put tighter restrictions on high-risk applications of AI. This includes restrictions that could be much tighter than Google hopes for, including a potential multi-year ban on facial recognition technology (with exceptions for research and security). In contrast to the EU’s more restrictive approaches, the US has pushed for relatively light regulations. It remains to be seen how the different regulation strategies will impact AI development, and society at large, in the two different regions of the globe.

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U.S. Government Will Limit Exports of Artificial Intelligence

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U.S. Government Will Limit Exports of Artificial Intelligence

The U.S. government will take steps next week to limit the export of artificial intelligence (AI) software. The decision by the Trump administration comes at a time when powerful rival nations, such as China, are becoming increasingly dominant in the field. The move is meant to keep certain sensitive technologies from falling into the hands of those nations. 

The new rule goes into effect on January 6, 2020,  and it will be aimed at certain companies that export geospatial imagery software from the United States. Those companies will be required to apply for a license to export it. The only exception is that a license will not be required to export to Canada. 

The new measure was the first of its kind to be finalized by the Commerce Department under a mandate from a 2018 law passed by Congress. That law updated arms controls to include emerging technology. 

The new rules will likely have an effect on a growing part of the tech industry. These algorithms are currently being used in order to analyze satellite images of crops, trade patterns and other changes within the economy and environment. 

Chinese companies are responsible for having exported artificial intelligence surveillance technology to over 60 countries. Some of those countries have dismal human rights records and include Iran, Myanmar, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. 

Within the nation of China itself, the Communist Party is using facial recognition technology systems to target Uighurs and other Muslim minorities located in China’s far western Xinjang region. According to a report released by a U.S. think tank, Beijing has been involved in “authoritarian tech.”

The think tank that released the report was the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and they did so after rising concerns of authoritarian regimes using the technology as a way to gain power. 

“Technology linked to Chinese companies — particularly Huawei, Hikvision, Dahua and ZTE — supply AI surveillance technology in 63 countries, 36 of which have signed onto China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” the report said.

One of China’s leading technology companies, Huawei Technologies Co., alone provides AI surveillance technology to at least 50 countries. 

“Chinese product pitches are often accompanied by soft loans to encourage governments to purchase their equipment,” according to the report. “This raises troubling questions about the extent to which the Chinese government is subsidizing the purchase of advanced repressive technology.”

China has faced increased scrutiny after an investigative report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was released detailing the nation’s surveillance and policing systems, which are being used to oppress Uighurs and send them to internment camps. 

The new rules implemented by the U.S. government will at first only go into effect within the country. However, U.S. authorities have said that they could be submitted to international bodies at a later time. 

There has been recent bi-partisan frustration over the long amount of time it is taking to roll-out new export controls for the technology. 

“While the government believes that it is in the national security interests of the United States to immediately implement these controls, it also wants to provide the interested public with an opportunity to comment on the control of new items,” according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

 

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