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China A.I. companies and Huawei filed to patent know-how that might determine Uighur Muslims, report says


Surveillance cameras are mounted on a publish at Tiananmen Sq. as snow falls in Beijing, China, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Pictures

GUANGZHOU, China — A new report reveals patent functions belonging to Huawei and a bunch of China-based synthetic intelligence firms for programs that may detect people who find themselves a part of a Muslim minority group.

The ethnic Uighurs, who stay principally in China’s west, have been recognized by the United Nations, United States, United Kingdom and others as a repressed group. Authorities allegedly use widespread surveillance technology to observe the area’s Uighur inhabitants. The Chinese language authorities denies mistreating Uighurs and says these camps are vocational coaching facilities.

IPVM, a U.S.-based analysis agency that analyzes video surveillance know-how, checked out patents in China associated to programs that may very well be used to determine Uighurs’ faces. IPVM collectively published its research with the BBC.

One of the patents — collectively submitted in 2018 by Huawei and the Chinese language Academy of Sciences, a authorities analysis company — says the algorithms for the patented know-how can be utilized to determine the attributes of a pedestrian, for instance. One attribute that may be acknowledged is “race.” Uighurs are referenced as one “race” that may be detected by Huawei’s system.

That patent is for an “object attribute recognition methodology, machine, computing tools and system,” in accordance with a translation of the submitting from IPVM and verified by CNBC.

Huawei informed CNBC it’s “taking proactive steps” to amend its patent utility.

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all sorts, together with using know-how to hold out ethnic discrimination. Figuring out people’ race was by no means a part of the analysis and growth venture. It ought to by no means have develop into a part of the appliance and we’re taking proactive steps to amend it,” a spokesperson for the corporate informed CNBC by electronic mail.

“We’re constantly working to make sure new and evolving know-how is developed and utilized with the utmost care and integrity.”

The Chinese language Academy of Sciences didn’t reply to a request for remark. The Chinese language embassy in Washington told CNBC in December that U.S. politicians create “disinformation” concerning the Uighurs to be able to “include China’s growth.”

A United Nations report in 2018 described issues that greater than 1,000,000 Uighurs and different minorities had been being “held in so-called counter-extremism facilities” within the Xinjiang area. One other two million had been pressured into “so-called ‘re-education camps’ for political and cultural indoctrination” in Xinjiang, the report stated.

Many of those camps function primarily based on what Amnesty International describes as a “extremely restrictive and discriminatory” regulation that China claims is designed to fight extremism.

Final June, the UN again raised concerns about “the collective repression of the population,” highlighting the non secular and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet in its report.

Megvii cites patent ‘misunderstanding’

Another patent highlighted by IPVM was filed by Chinese language AI large Megvii in 2019. It outlines a picture recognition system that may assist label photographs of individuals in a database.

One of many classifications it will possibly acknowledge is ethnicity. Megvii’s system can be utilized to determine and label photographs of Uighurs, the patent states.

A Megvii spokesperson stated the language in its patent is “open to misunderstanding.”

“The patent utility pertains to portrait retrieval and know-how to re-label photographs which were labeled incorrectly in present databases. All photographs and underlying databases are offered and held by third events,” a Megvii spokesperson informed CNBC over WeChat.

The corporate stated its know-how “will not be a facial recognition answer, nor in any manner represents an intention to develop ethnic identification options. Megvii has not developed and won’t develop or promote racial or ethnic labelling options.”

Nevertheless, the patent refers explicitly to classifying photographs of individuals “in accordance with Han, Uighur, non-Han, non-Uighur” ethnicity, in accordance with a CNBC translation of the doc. The Han persons are the ethnic majority in China.

“Megvii acknowledges that previously, we now have targeted on our industrial growth and lacked acceptable management of our advertising and marketing, gross sales, and operations supplies. We’re endeavor measures to appropriate the state of affairs,” the corporate stated.

It isn’t the primary time Huawei and Megvii have been linked to know-how that may allegedly be used to determine Uighurs. Final month, IPVM claimed the two companies tested a facial recognition system that may very well be used to detect Uighurs and ship alerts to authorities.

Huawei stated on the time that the know-how was “merely a take a look at and it has not seen real-world utility.” Megvii stated on the time that its “options are usually not designed or personalized to focus on or label ethnic teams.”

In 2019, the U.S. Commerce Department put Megvii on a U.S. blacklist known as the Entity List. American companies are restricted from exporting to firms on the listing.

The U.S. authorities alleged on the time that the corporate and different entities added to the listing “have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses within the implementation of China’s marketing campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance in opposition to Uighurs, Kazakhs, and different members of Muslim minority teams” in China’s Xinjiang area.

Uighur reference referred to as ‘regrettable’

SenseTime, one other AI firm in China, filed a patent in 2019 for a picture database search system that was described as a strategy to retrieve photographs in a database utilizing sure attributes.

The patent describes how a person may use the phrase “Uighur” as a search attribute.

SenseTime referred to as that reference to Uighurs “regrettable” and informed CNBC through electronic mail that it had developed a code of ethics round synthetic intelligence for the reason that patent utility was filed.

“This explicit AI analysis … consists of facial recognition of all ethnicities with out prejudice. The reference to Uyghurs is regrettable and is among the examples throughout the utility supposed for instance the attributes the algorithm acknowledges,” a spokesperson informed CNBC.

“It was neither designed nor supposed in any strategy to discriminate, which is in opposition to our values. We’ll replace the patent on the subsequent accessible alternative. In the meantime, the appliance additionally pre-dates the AI Code of Ethics, which we developed later in 2019,” the corporate stated.

‘Race, ethnicity’ makes use of

Separate from the patent filings from AI companies, IPVM additionally revealed patents filed by Alibaba and Baidu that make reference to ethnicity.

A patent first utilized for by Chinese language e-commerce large Alibaba in 2016 was for an “picture set technology methodology, machine and picture recognition module” that features “race, ethnicity” as doable “functions,” CNBC confirmed.

Uighurs weren’t talked about within the submitting.

“Racial or ethnic discrimination or profiling in any kind violates our insurance policies and values. We by no means supposed our know-how for use for and won’t allow it for use for focusing on particular ethnic teams,” an Alibaba spokesperson informed CNBC, with out addressing the reference to “race, ethnicity” that the corporate used within the patent.

Chinese language search large Baidu filed a patent in 2018 for a picture recognition system. Ethnicity is among the attributes its proposed system can acknowledge.

The corporate didn’t single out Uighurs or different particular ethnic teams in its patent. A Baidu spokesperson informed CNBC that the patent’s reference to ethnicity was an try at a technical clarification of its know-how, and the corporate drew a distinction between its proposed programs and present programs.

“Baidu has by no means developed or permitted its know-how to profile any ethnic group. Our present facial recognition providing will not be able to detecting ethnicity as an attribute,” Baidu stated in an announcement through WeChat.

“When submitting for a patent, the doc notes are meant for instance of a technical clarification, on this case describing what the attribute recognition mannequin is somewhat than representing the anticipated implementation of the invention,” Baidu stated.

“We don’t and won’t allow our know-how for use to determine or goal particular ethnic teams,” the corporate stated.