The Tom Cruise deepfakes were hard to create. But less sophisticated ‘shallowfakes’ are already wreaking havoc

tom cruise BURBANK, CA - JANUARY 30: Tom Cruise onstage during the 10th Annual Lumiere Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on January 30, 2019 in Burbank. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Advanced Imaging Society)
  • The convincing Tom Cruise deepfakes that went viral last month took lots of skill to create.
  • But less sophisticated “shallowfakes” and other synthetic media are already creating havoc.
  • DARPA’s AI experts mapped out how hard it would be to create these emerging types of fake media.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The coiffed hair, the squint, the jaw clench, and even the signature cackle – it all looks and sounds virtually indistinguishable from the real Tom Cruise.

But the uncanny lookalikes that went viral on TikTok last month under the handle @deeptomcruise were deepfakes, a collaboration between Belgian visual-effects artist Chris Ume and Tom Cruise impersonator Miles Fisher.

The content was entertaining and harmless, with the fake Cruise performing magic tricks, practicing his golf swing, and indulging in a Bubble Pop. Still, the videos – which have racked up an average of 5.6 million views each – reignited people’s fears about the dangers of the most cutting-edge type of fake media.

“Deepfakes seem to tap into a really visceral part of people’s minds,” Henry Ajder, a UK-based deepfakes expert, told Insider.

“When you watch that Tom Cruise deepfake, you don’t need an analogy because you’re seeing it with your own two eyes and you’re being kind of fooled even though you know it’s not real,” he said. “Being fooled is a very intimate experience. And if someone is fooled by a deepfake, it makes them sit up and pay attention.”

Read more: What is a deepfake? Everything you need to know about the AI-powered fake media

The good news: it’s really hard to make such a convincing deepfake. It took Ume two months to train the AI-powered tool that generated the deepfakes, 24 hours to edit each minute-long video, and a talented human impersonator to mimic the hair, body shape, mannerisms, and voice, according to The New York Times.

The bad news: it won’t be that hard for long, and major advances in the technology in recent years have unleashed a wave of apps and free tools that enable people with few skills or resources to create increasingly good deepfakes.

Nina Schick, a deepfake expert and former advisor to Joe Biden, told Insider this “rapid commodification of the technology” is already is wreaking havoc.

“Are you just really concerned about the high-fidelity side of this? Absolutely not,” Shick said, adding that working at the intersection of geopolitics and technology has taught her that “it doesn’t have to be terribly sophisticated for it to be effective and do damage.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is well aware of this diverse landscape, and its Media Forensics (MediFor) team is working alongside private sector researchers to develop tools that can detect manipulated media, including deepfakes as well cheapfakes and shallowfakes.

As part of its research, DARPA’s MediFor team mapped out different types of synthetic media – and the level of skill and resources an individual, group, or an adversarial country would need to create it.

MediFor threat landscape.pptx

Hollywood-level productions – like those in “Star Wars: Rogue One” or “The Irishman” – require lots of resources and skill to create, even though they typically aren’t AI-powered (though Disney is experimenting with deepfakes). On the other end of the scale, bad actors with little training have used simple video-editing techniques to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear drunk and incite violence in Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Kenya, and Burma.

Shick said the Facebook-fueled genocide against Rohingya Muslims also relied mostly on these so-called “cheapfakes” and “shallowfakes” – synthetic or manipulated media altered using less advanced, non-AI tools.

But deepfakes aren’t just being used to spread political misinformation, and experts told Insider ordinary people may have the most to lose if they become a target.

Last month, a woman was arrested in Pennsylvania and charged with cyber harassment on suspicion of making deepfake videos of teen cheerleaders naked and smoking, in an attempt to get them kicked off her daughter’s squad.

“It’s almost certain that we’re going to see some kind of porn version of this app,” Shick said. In a recent op-ed in Wired, she and Ajder wrote about a bot Ajder helped discover on Telegram that turned 100,000 user-provided photos of women and underage children into deepfake porn – and how app developers need to take proactive steps to prevent this kind of abuse.

Experts told Insider they’re particularly concerned about these types of cases because the victims often lack the money and status to set the record straight.

“The celebrity porn [deepfakes] have already come out, but they have the resources to protect themselves … the PR team, the legal team … millions of supporters,” Shick said. “What about everyone else?”

As with most new technologies, from facial recognition to social media to COVID-19 vaccines, women, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups tend to be disproportionately the victims of abuse and bias stemming from their use.

To counter the threat posed by deepfakes, experts say society needs a multipronged approach that includes government regulation, proactive steps by technology and social media companies, and public education about how to think critically and navigate our constantly evolving information ecosystem.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Winnie Lee, Appier cofounder and COO, explains how AI and predictive technologies are powering the future of business

Winnie Lee Appier
Winnie Lee, COO and cofounder of Appier

According to a 2020 report from Grand View Research, Inc., the global artificial intelligence market size is expected to reach US$733.7 billion by 2027, of which up to 20% of revenue will come from the advertising and media sector. This is welcome news for Appier, a Taiwan-based startup that provides a suite of AI-powered products to brands and marketers looking to better understand – and predict – their customers’ needs. The company was established in 2012 by Chih-Han Yu, Winnie Lee, and Joe Su, three friends who met while working and studying in the US. Eight years later, the company has attracted upward of US$182 million in investment, making it one of Taiwan’s highest valued startups. Insider spoke with Winnie Lee, Appier cofounder and COO, about how AI and predictive technologies are powering the future of business.

Insider: In the eight years Appier has been in operation, the company has grown rapidly to where it is now valued at over US$1 billion. What has driven this growth?

Lee: I think there are three key elements. One is technology advancement. The second is the product solutions we build. And the last one is the business execution. These three are very critical to our growth. The first two echo back to the company mindset of having market-driven innovation. We need to make sure that any innovation is really addressing the market needs. This allows us not only to drive the technology advancement within the team, but also to think from the customer’s point of view – what would really make their lives easier? We need to develop products that are solving the end user’s problem but we also need to continue to drive the AI development. Both are very crucial to us.

At the same time, Asia is composed of so many different countries and if you want to grow as a company you really need to understand each market that you enter. We have been operating in 14 cities across Asia and in each city we hire people from the local market because we believe they will understand the customers there. Through this interaction between each business team from each market to the product team, we can fast iterate our product and make sure it is meeting everyone’s needs.

Insider: Why did Appier choose the marketing and sales sector as its area of focus?

Lee: What we had observed is that as businesses started to go digital, the first piece of data they want to digitize is the customer data. As an AI company, if you have very clear goals and sufficiently relevant data then you can help those companies to utilize their data and improve continuously and can easily show your value. However, if you enter a field that has very little data then it becomes almost impossible to prove your value. That’s why we chose to start in the marketing and sales domain.

Insider: What are Appier’s strengths compared to other marketing solutions companies such as Salesforce and IBM? How does the company differentiate itself in the market?

Lee: We are different in two ways. The first is that most other companies tend to group their products by functions. We are unique in that we are trying to think from our customer’s perspective and how they can map their business challenges on a day to day basis against the solutions we can offer.

The second difference is that we are actually an AI-native company. When we started the business, our aspiration was to use AI to empower businesses to use their own data. Everything we design and everything we sell is surrounded by this idea or concept. We are almost an ‘AI as a service company’. Not just a SaaS company, but more an intelligent software company. There are a lot of companies that are trying to add AI into their software. When we design a product, the AI capabilities are already built in.

Insider: Over the past few years Appier has acquired a number of tech companies, such as Japanese AI solutions provider Emin. What is the thinking behind this acquisition strategy?

Lee: When we want to expand our product portfolio, our first logical thought is to look around in adjacent fields and see which area would make the most sense to enter first. Once we have identified a specific area, we start to scan the market. If we don’t find anything close to what we want to build then we just go ahead and build it. But if the functionality that we want is already there with another company, then we would consider whether that company would be a good target for us.

For example, Emin was in a sector that we wanted to enter, which is optimizing transactions for businesses. However, their AI technology was not as advanced. After we had acquired them, we injected our AI capabilities into the platform and now the performance of that platform has become a lot better compared to what it was before.

Insider: Predictive AI – the ability to analyze historical data to predict future behavior – is an emerging field in marketing. How do you see this evolving?

Lee: In the past few years there has been a lot of focus on solving data collection and data organization problems. But from our perspective, the challenges that marketers face is not only this but also managing this increased amount of data and being able to continuously understand their end users.

Predictive AI is the trend the industry is moving toward right now. Turning data into insight is of course important, but how to turn data into insight and then into action is even more important. Within our suite of solutions, we focus on building this predictive capability instead of just providing insight and analytics to the customers. We want to help them actually turn data into action. Reactive approaches based on historical data is useful, it’s still important, but how do you predict future behavior or the future action you should take? This proactive approach is going to be critical for most companies.

Insider: The three cofounders all met while studying and working in the US. Why did you decide to bring the technology back to Asia?

Lee: Growing up here, we knew that we have very strong tech talent, a very strong software talent pool in Taiwan, which was not obvious to the rest of the world back then. In addition to the talent pool, Asia has been a great place to grow a business. There is a lot of growth and a lot of companies needing solutions like ours.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Toyota just started building a 175-acre smart city at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan. Photos offer a glimpse of what the ‘Woven City’ will look like.

Toyota city
The “Woven City” will eventually be home to 2,000 Toyota employees and their families, retired couples, retailers, and scientists, according to the company.

Toyota Motor Corporation started construction this week on a 175-acre smart city at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji, about 62 miles from Tokyo, the company announced Tuesday.

The city, which Toyota has dubbed the “Woven City,” is expected to function as a testing ground for technologies like robotics, smart homes, and artificial intelligence. A starting population of about 360 inventors, senior citizens, and families with young children will test and develop these technologies.

These residents, who are expected to move into the Woven City within five years, will live in smart homes with in-home robotics systems to assist with daily living and sensor-based artificial intelligence to monitor health and take care of other basic needs, according to the company.

The eventual plan is for the city to house a population of more than 2,000 Toyota employees and their families, retired couples, retailers, and scientists. Toyota announced plans for the city last year at CES, the tech trade show in Las Vegas.

Here’s what the 175-acre smart city is set to look like when it’s finished.

Toyota’s planned 175-acre smart city will sit at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, about 62 miles from Tokyo.

toyota city
An artist’s rendering of Toyota’s planned smart city.

Called the “Woven City,” the development will feature pedestrian streets “interwoven” with streets dedicated to self-driving cars, according to press materials. The city is expected to be fully sustainable, powered by hydrogen fuel cells. 

The Woven City will function as a testing ground for technologies like robotics, smart homes, and artificial intelligence, according to the company.

Toyota officially started construction on the city in a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, the company announced. The city is set to be built on the site of one of Toyota’s former manufacturing plants called Higashi-Fuji.

Toyota plans to send about 360 people to live in the Woven City to start. From there, it intends to gradually grow the population to more than 2,000.

toyota city
An artist’s rendering of Toyota’s planned smart city.

The first residents will be a group of roughly 360 inventors, senior citizens, and young families with children, according to the company. These residents will move in within five years, a Toyota spokesperson told Insider last year.

Toyota has not yet revealed how these first residents will be chosen, and a spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for more details.

Eventually, the Woven City is expected to be home to more than 2,000 Toyota employees and their families, retired couples, retailers, visiting scientists, and industry partners.

Residents will live in homes outfitted with in-home robotics technology as well as sensor-based artificial intelligence to monitor their health and take care of their basic needs.

Toyota city
An artist’s rendering of a home in Toyota’s planned smart city.

Despite the planned high-tech homes, Toyota says that promoting human connection is a major theme of the city but has not released specifics on how it plans to encourage this. 

Press materials indicate that the planned city will feature multiple parks and a large central plaza for social gatherings.

toyota city
An artist’s rendering of Toyota’s planned smart city.

Bjarke Ingels, the famed Danish architect behind high-profile projects such as 2 World Trade Center in New York City and Google’s California and London headquarters, is responsible for the city’s design.

Buildings are to be made mostly of wood to minimize the carbon footprint.

toyota city
An artist’s rendering of Toyota’s planned smart city.

Rooftops are slated to be covered in photo-voltaic panels to generate solar power and hydrogen fuel cell power.

Toyota says it plans to integrate nature throughout the city with native vegetation and hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil.

The city will be designed with three different types of streets: one for self-driving vehicles, one for pedestrians using personal mobility devices like bikes, and one for pedestrians only.

Toyota city
An artist’s rendering of Toyota’s planned smart city.

These three types of streets will form an “organic grid pattern” to help test autonomy, according to Toyota.

There will also be one underground road used for transporting goods. 

A fleet of Toyota’s self-driving electric vehicles, called e-Palettes, will be used for transportation, deliveries, and mobile retail throughout the city.

toyota e-palette

Toyota has not yet disclosed an estimated completion date or estimated total cost for building the Woven City. 

The Woven City joins a slew of similar smart city projects across Japan, some of which are also spearheaded by major companies.

panasonic Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town
A robot demonstrates a delivery at Panasonic’s Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town in Fujisawa, Japan on December 9, 2020.

In 2014, electronic appliance company Panasonic opened a smart city in Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture called the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, per Tokyo Esque, a market research agency. The city is still under construction with completion expected in 2022, but more than 2,000 people live there now, according to Panasonic.

Accenture, an American-Irish consulting company, is teaming up with the University of Aizu on smart city projects in the town of Aizuwakamatsu with the goal of better using artificial intelligence in public services, the company announced in July 2020.

Local governments made more than 50 proposals for smart cities in Japan in 2020, but only a handful of those were approved, according to Tokyo Esque.

As Linda Poon reported for Bloomberg last year, critics say smart city developers should focus on the human aspect of the projects, not just the technology.

“If it’s not started from a human-centric perspective, from the bottom up as opposed to from the top down, these aren’t real cities,” John Jung, founder of the Intelligent Community Forum think tank, told Bloomberg in January 2020. “They’re not designed to get [people] to know each other.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 things everyone should know about cloud AI, according to a Sequoia Capital partner

Alexa in the kitchen
Many people encounter cloud AI through their smart speaker

  • Konstantine Buhler, a partner at Sequoia Capital, believes “cloud is going to become AI.”
  • Buhler insists that AI is not “magic,” and that it should be demystified and measured.
  • Buhler says companies can bake AI into their processes “horizontally.” 
  • This article is part of a series about cloud technology called At Cloud Speed.

If you ask Sequoia Capital partner and early-stage investor Konstantine Buhler about the role of artificial intelligence in cloud computing, his answer is unequivocal: “Cloud is going to become AI,” he told Insider. “I mean, all of the cloud will be based on AI.”

Snowflake’s $3.4 billion initial public offering and DataBricks’ $1 billion funding round over the past year suggest big things ahead for AI in the cloud, and the industry is estimated at $40 billion and climbing. Major platforms like Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud – as well as a host of startups – sell cloud-based tools and services for data labeling, automation, natural language processing, image recognition, and more, making it more affordable than ever before for firms to dabble in AI. 

Buhler, who has a master’s degree in artificial intelligence engineering from Stanford, revels in AI’s contributions, but also insists that the sector be demystified, and basic business fundamentals applied to it. 

His investments include CaptivateIQ, which automates business commissions, and Verkada, a security camera company that uses AI to recognize information like license plate numbers. Sequoia in general is an investor in some of the biggest names in AI, including Snowflake and Nvidia. 

“This next wave of enterprise and consumer technologies will all need AI built in,” Buhler said. “That’s going to be the standard going forward.”

AI’s ubiquity in the future is the first of a few basic lessons Buhler believes everyone should understand about AI’s impact over the next decade in the cloud. Here are the rest:

AI is not magic – it’s math

There is an (unwarranted) aura around artificial intelligence that ascribes to it supernatural brilliance.

“It seems complicated – it seems like magic of some sort, so people get intimidated and awed by it,” Buhler said. “Artificial intelligence is just more and more mathematical computations done rapidly, which at some point, for a moment, seems ‘magical.’ But it never is.”

Ordinary people should ask to understand it, because it impacts their lives. If you talk to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, you are conversing with AI. If your cat hops aboard a Roomba vacuum, both of you can appreciate how it “learns” to avoid objects in its path. On the other hand, a red-light camera that zooms in to read your license plate when you go through intersections late and automatically fines you might not be such a welcome innovation. 

AI should learn from the internet revolution

Buhler believes that AI is at a similar inflection point as what the internet revolution experienced 20 years ago: “Let’s learn a lesson from the dot.com boom,” when many over-valued companies imploded as they failed to materialize as real companies, Buhler said: “Everybody had that mentality of, ‘let’s stick internet on this thing.'”

While cloud-based tools allow companies to spin up AI models with relative ease, not every problem needs to be solved with these kinds of algorithms. 

The business case must always be there – with the customer centered – or AI will not be practical.

“When you build an artificial intelligence model, it is not about the AI: It is about the customer,” Buhler said. “The internet was a communication revolution, and AI is a computation revolution. This is a new mechanism to serve people, and you have to understand their needs, or you’re going to spend years building the wrong thing.”

Konstantine Buhler of Sequoia Capital
Konstantine Buhler is a partner and early stage investor at Sequoia Capital.

Every company has a ‘horizontal’ AI opportunity

Buhler believes every company can bake AI into their business using the same basic “horizontal stack,” or processes that take raw data and turn it into actionable intelligence that can be used in different ways across business units. Buhler says companies like Databricks, Dataiku, DataRobot, and Domino Data Lab (“they all start with D for some reason”) help enterprises do this. 

Horizontal data processes can include data preparation (sorting text from image files, for instance), data labeling, data storage, creating algorithms that process the data, and, finally, applying the algorithms to specific business processes to help guide decision making. 

“It should be laid out that simply,” he says. That process “is all about enabling enterprises to bake artificial intelligence directly into their systems.”

AI startups can also focus on verticals 

Buhler says there are also AI startups that are providing products tailored to more specific business needs. Gong, for example, helps salespeople evaluate opportunities, while competitor Chorus turns sales conversations into data. In the financial world, the startup Vise automates investment management, while in the legal world, Ironclad helps attorneys build contracts faster. Gong, Vise, and Chorus are Sequoia portfolio companies. 

The key in picking great AI startups, Buhler says, is being able to measure how a company is helping its customers: “It has to be a real business with outputs that can be quantified.” 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Break Free B2B Marketing: Oliver Christie on Making Life Better With AI

Oliver Christie of PertexaHealthTech Image

Oliver Christie of PertexaHealthTech Image

Just what is a B2B influencer, and what do they actually look like?

In our third season of Break Free B2B Marketing video interviews we’re having in-depth conversations with an impressive array of top B2B influencers, exploring the important issues that each expert is influential about.

Successful B2B influencers have a rare mix of the 5 Ps — proficiency, personality, publishing, promotion, and popularity — as our CEO Lee Odden has carefully outlined in “5 Key Traits of the Best B2B Influencers.”

Offering up all of those boxes and more is Oliver Christie, chief artificial intelligence (AI) officer at PertexaHealthTech, who we’re delighted to be profiling today.

Nothing helps individuals and the businesses they work for break free from the norm quite like a tech disruption. The microprocessor. The internet. Mobile data. E-Commerce. When these technologies came onto the scene, everything changed… but what’s next?

According to Oliver Christie, it’s AI. In his own words: “Artificial Intelligence is the biggest technology disruption of our generation.” As far as he’s concerned, A.I. isn’t just the future, it’s the present. In today’s new episode of the Break Free B2B Marketing Interview series, Christie speaks about the role of artificial intelligence in our lives, including topics like A.I. and morality, bias in A.I., and the direction of A.I.’s future.

Artificial intelligence isn’t science fiction. It’s very much a science reality, and Oliver Christie is one of the leading experts talking and consulting on the topic. In today’s 31 minute interview with TopRank’s own Josh Nite, he’ll be passing some of that expertise along.

Break Free B2B Interview with Oliver Christie

If you’re interested in checking out a particular portion of the discussion, you can find a quick general outline below, as well as a few excerpts that stood out to us.

  • :55 – Introduction to Oliver Christie
  • 3:05 – Human-centric artificial intelligence
  • 4:14 – Personalization and how to avoid the “diabolical side”
  • 5:46 – The ways Oliver believes AI will impact the life of the everyday person in the next couple years
  • 7:10 – Personalization on Amazon
  • 11:13 – How AI will be reshaping business
  • 13:46 – What’s your new question?”
  • 16:50 – How the pandemic is changing the way technology is being developed
  • 19:10 – Bias in AI
  • 22:46 – How Oliver Christie found his niche as a thought leader
  • 27:58 – The importance of being yourself

Josh: I’m really interested in what we were talking about before we started. The idea of human-centric AI. AI can feel like this distant or cold thing or something that is, you know, it’s powering my Netflix algorithm. But I don’t know how it relates to my day to day. How is it a human-centric thing? We’re thinking about people and individuals.

Oliver: Something we’re moving more and more towards is thinking about people as individuals and what matters to us. How we talk. How do we act? What are our interests? You mentioned Netflix. The algorithm which says what you should watch next. If that’s successful, you watch more. If it has an understanding of what you might like, you can see more media if you get it. If it gets it wrong, if it doesn’t know who you are, it is a turnoff and you never see the difference between that and other media services. I think that the next big leap is going to be our products and services are going to be much more reactive to who we are. How will we live? And so on. But there are some big challenges. So it’s not a quick and easy thing to do. But I think the future is pretty exciting.

[bctt tweet=”“I think that the next big leap is going to be our products and services are going to be much more reactive to who we are.” @OliverChristie #BreakFreeB2B #ArtificialIntelligence #AI” username=”toprank”]

Josh: Have you ever been on Amazon while not logged in? It’s such a striking thing to open an incognito window or something and you see how much personalization goes into that page and how just clueless it seems when it’s not on there.

Oliver: Amazon’s an interesting one. It’s algorithm is better than nothing. And it works to a degree. Some of the time, if you match a pattern — so the music you listen to, the books you buy — f someone is quite close to that, it works. As soon as you deviate, it pulls down or as soon as you’re looking for something original, it also doesn’t work. So I think Amazon is a good example of where we are at the moment, but not where we could be next. Amazon doesn’t once ask, what are you trying to achieve in your shopping? What are you trying to do next? And I think that’s going to be one of the big shifts that will happen.

Josh: What are we trying to achieve with that shopping, though? Besides, for me, it’s filling the void of not being able to go out to a concert and having a party, having something to look forward to with deliveries coming in. What kind of intent are you thinking about?

Oliver: Imagine you had the same shopping experience and let’s say it’s for books, videos, or courses. And the simple question can be, what would you like to achieve in your career in the next six months? Where would you like to be or what’s happening in your personal life? Want some advice and information which could be really useful? I think this sort of tailoring is where things are heading. So it’s still selling books and courses and videos and so on. But it’s understandably the intent behind content. What could this do to your career? What could this do for your family life, your love life, whatever it might be? Now, of course, we’re all locked down at the moment. So it’s a very different sort of situation. But I think some of the same things still apply. There’s going to be a back and forth. So how much do you want to give up about your personal life? Better recommendation. And I think it’s kind of early in some respects. But the data they passed shows, yes, if you get something positive out of it, you’ll have to give up some of that previously.

[bctt tweet=”“Amazon is a good example of where we are at the moment, but not where we could be next. Amazon doesn’t once ask, what are you trying to achieve in your shopping? What are you trying to do next?.” @OliverChristie #BreakFreeB2B” username=”toprank”]

Keep your eye on the TopRank Marketing Blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Break Free B2B interviews. Also check out episodes from season 1 and season 2.

Take your B2B marketing to new heights by checking out out previous season 3 episodes of Break Free B2B Marketing:

The post Break Free B2B Marketing: Oliver Christie on Making Life Better With AI appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

Huawei reportedly worked with 4 additional companies to build surveillance tools that track people by ethnicity, following recent revelations that it tested a ‘Uighur alarm’

Huawei China
  • Huawei has worked with at least four partner companies to develop surveillance technologies that claim to monitor people by ethnicity, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
  • Last week, The Post reported that Huawei in 2018 had tested a “Uighur alarm” — an AI facial recognition tool that claimed to identify members of the largely Muslim minority group and alert Chinese authorities.
  • Huawei told the The Post that the tool was “simply a test,” but according to Saturday’s report, Huawei has developed multiple such tools.
  • The reports add to growing concern over China’s extensive surveillance and oppression of Uyghurs and other minority groups, as well as increasing use of racially discriminatory surveillance tools and practices by US law enforcement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Huawei tested an AI-powered facial-recognition technology that could trigger a “Uighur alarm” for Chinese authorities when it identified a person from the persecuted minority group in 2018, The Washington Post reported last week.

At the time, Huawei spokesperson Glenn Schloss told The Post that the tool was “simply a test and it has not seen real-world application.”

But a new investigation published by The Post on Saturday found that Huawei has worked with dozens of security firms to build surveillance tools – and that products it developed in partnership with four of those companies claimed to be able to identify and monitor people based on their ethnicity.

Documents publicly available on Huawei’s website detailed the capabilities of those ethnicity-tracking tools as well as more than 2,000 product collaborations, according to The Post. The publication also reported that after it contacted Huawei, the company took the website offline temporarily before restoring the site with only 38 products listed.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading, Britain July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” a Huawei spokesperson told Business Insider. “We provide general-purpose ICT [information and communication technology] products based on recognized industry standards.”

“We do not develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group, and we do not condone the use of our technologies to discriminate against or oppress members of any community,” the spokesperson continued. “We take the allegations in the Washington Post’s article very seriously and are investigating the issues raised within.”

Huawei worked with Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft on products that made a variety of claims about estimating, tracking, and visualizing people’s ethnicities, as well as other Chinese tech companies on tools to suppress citizens’ complaints about wrongdoing by local government officials and analyze “voiceprint” data, according to The Post.

Beijing Xintiandi Information Technology, DeepGlint, Bresee, and Maiyuesoft could not be reached for comment.

Human rights groups, media reports, and other independent researchers have extensively documented China’s mass surveillance and detainment of as many as one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minority groups in internment camps, where reports allege they are subjected to torturesexual abuse, and forced labor for little or no pay.

To help it build the surveillance apparatus that enables such widespread detainment, the Chinese government has at times turned to the country’s technology firms.

“This is not one isolated company. This is systematic,” John Honovich, the founder of IPVM, a research group that first discovered the 2018 test, told The Post. He added that “a lot of thought went into making sure this ‘Uighur alarm’ works.”

In October 2019, the US Commerce Department blacklisted 28 Chinese government agencies and tech companies including China’s five “AI champions” – Hikvision, Dahua, SenseTime, Megvii, and iFlytek – on its banned “entity list,” thus preventing US firms from exporting certain technologies to them.

Still, some of those blacklisted companies have managed to continue exporting their technologies to Western countries, and BuzzFeed News reported last year that US tech firms, including Amazon, Apple, and Google, have continued selling those companies’ products to US consumers via online marketplaces.

In the US, law enforcement agencies and even schools have also increased their reliance on facial recognition software and other AI-powered surveillance technologies, despite growing evidence that such tools exhibit racial and gender bias.

But recent pushback from activists, tech ethicists, and employees has pushed some tech companies to temporarily stop selling facial recognition tools to law enforcement, and some US cities have issued moratoriums on their use, highlighting some divides between approaches to policing in the US and China.

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