Microsoft Working with China on Surveillance-Based AI


Microsoft is currently in the works with a Chinese university ran by the military. Microsofts aim is to aid in the research of an artificial intelligence program that can be used for surveillance and censorship. This has unsurprisingly sparked outrage among China hawks.

Three papers regarding the research for the AI program were published between March and November last year. One of the papers contained insights on AI that was capable of recreating detailed environmental maps by analysing human faces, which experts suggest have an obvious significance to the surveillance and censorship problem in China. The paper has information regarding the system, stating that it provides a better understanding of the surrounding environment which can have a “variety of vision applications”. 

China tech policy expert, Samm Sacks, claimed the papers raised “red flags because of the nature of the technology, the author affiliations, combined with what we know about how this technology is being deployed in China right now.” He went on to say that “the government is using these technologies to build surveillance systems and to detain minorities.”

Microsoft is allegedly aiding a military-run Chinese university in implementing stricter censorship and surveillance.

Microsoft is allegedly aiding a military-run Chinese university in implementing stricter censorship and surveillance.

After the work from Microsoft was reported by the Financial Times, Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement “we must ensure that American business interests are not enabling the oppression.” He went on to say that “American companies need to understand that doing business in China carries significant and deepening risk. In addition to being targeted by the Chinese Communist party for espionage, American companies are increasingly at risk of boosting the Chinese Communist party’s human rights atrocities.” However, Microsoft defended its research on the AI platform by saying that the project was part of a worldwide collaborative effort by its scientists, to help solve cutting-edge technology issues. In another statement, the tech-giant went on to claim that “the research is guided by our principles, fully complies with US and local laws, and  is published to ensure transparency so that everyone can benefit from our work.”

Whether Microsoft is actually working with China to help enforce stricter censorship laws is not clearly known. However, the research papers release strongly suggest that the company is involved in risky and dangerous business relations with the military-run university. However, the US government is currently deciding whether stricter rules regarding the sharing of knowledge about artificial intelligence and machine learning should be put into place.

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Zacharia Sharif