Do Human Rights Apply to Artificial Intelligence?
U.S. cracking down on SenseTime before it's proposed IPO in Hong Kong
I am very bullish on Chinese pure-play AI companies. One of the only defenses the U.S. has against them is actually to regulate them (though it does not regulate its own). Honestly, this seems to be what is occurring with SenseTime.
The Beijing Olympics are an opportunity for the U.S. to rally against the human rights abuses of China in Xinjiang. Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls "re-education camps", and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms.
Chinese technology companies have been used in this assault on this minority. This as in December, 2021 the U.S. imposes sweeping human rights sanctions on China, Myanmar and North Korea. Reuters is reporting now that even their IPO in Hong Kong is in limbo due to this. So is SenseTime the new Huawei?
SenseTime has raised $2.6 billion to date and is among China’s top AI startups. Yet if you can blacklist a company that your country doesn’t even possess a valid competitor against in the name of human rights, where does that leave free market global capitalism? It’s not even among the worst offenders in AI ethics globally.
Obviously how China leverages surveillance capitalism against minorities is wrong and atrocious yet the equal measures U.S. regulation and blacklisting does appear to be strategically biased. In the 2020s it appears politics and technology are colliding like never seen before.
US Treasury claims SenseTime is responsible for ‘abuse enabled by the malign use of technology’
The move reportedly delays SenseTime’s Hong Kong IPO, which was already halved, reports the SCMP.
The White House has placed the company on an investment blacklist over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
It’s a little bit chaotic right now as SenseTime is in the middle of a storm. Earlier this week, the AI company cut its IPO size by more than half amid a sell-off in technology stocks triggered by regulatory and privacy concerns.
China is the Global Leader in Facial Recognition at Scale
In China, facial recognition at scale is already ten to fifteen years ahead of the U.S. Of course China will be the leader in exporting this technology world wide. Is blacklisting your competitors the answer for the U.S. under the guise of human rights violations? Are diplomatic boycotts going to solve the problem of China’s growing supremacy in technology?
China has any number of pure-play AI companies of scale that neither Europe or the U.S. possess or can match in terms of the size of data sets. China is on pace to overtake the United States in the sophistication and evolution of its own brand of surveillance capitalism, widely seen as the meta or end-game of free market capitalism where ‘data is the new oil’.
China or SenseTime cannot “reject the claims”, we all know what Xinjiang is. Yet this doesn’t stop the problem of AI not respecting human rights. Prominent researchers don’t believe AI will (or can) be ethical if it were to be self-programming.
A professor and a fellow at the University of Oxford came face to face with that reality when they invited an AI to participate in a debate at the Oxford Union on, you guessed it, the ethics of AI. Specifically, as Dr. Alex Connock and Professor Andrew Stephen explain in the Conversation, the prompt was "This house believes that AI will never be ethical." The AI, it seems, agreed. (source).
China’s version of regulating AI will be quite different from America’s own system that doesn’t regulate Meta, Google or Microsoft adequately. Decoupling and blacklisting is not the solution to a global economy. Building actual companies that can take on Chinese tech firms is more in the spirit of free-market capitalism. America can’t have it both ways.
China has AI firms that don’t yet exist anywhere else. This is a hard concept for some people to grasp who don’t understand that facial recognition will be ubiquitous by 2035. Police already buy it from the likes of Microsoft and Amazon. Weaponizing AI against our human rights is nothing new, our privacy has already been exploited as app consumers by Silicon Valley. Was there any antitrust done in the first 25 years of Silicon Valley to protect people?
When Google tracks us in the physical world in Google maps without our permission or Facebook listens to our real-life conversations without our permission, what indeed is a malign use of technology? “Treasury is using its tools to expose and hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights abuse,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo, identifying SenseTime as being responsible for “human rights abuse enabled by the malign use of technology”.
I am an advocate of owning Chinese stocks because I know they are better companies that reflect a more futuristic society. The Treasury Department added SenseTime to the administration’s investment blacklist, which blocks Americans from buying shares of the company’s stock.
How does the internet or AI infringe upon our human rights? When an app like Instagram impacts a teenage girl’s mental health or suicidal thought ideation, is that not an offense against her human rights? This has happend to millions of young women, but nothing has been done about Meta.
Is AI not used by police for their own racial profiling in America? “SenseTime 100 per cent owns Shenzhen Sensetime Technology Co. Ltd., which has developed facial recognition programs that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying ethnic Uygurs,” the department said.
America has one of the worst records of racial inequality in the world, it seems a bit bizarre they are blacklisting Chinese tech firms on these grounds. Not that I condone the move, but it’s highly political to say the least. Every day American police officers shoot black unarmed individuals.
SenseTime is Obliged to Serve its Government and Their Policies
“When applying for patent applications, Shenzhen Sensetime Technology Co. Ltd. has highlighted its ability to identify Uygurs wearing beards, sunglasses, and masks.” That SenseTime has a tech that is able to do that is truly astounding and somewhat terrifying. But is it the world leader in facial recognition.
Human rights must be upheld in the age of artificial intelligence and data-tracking exploits and privacy invasion. Yet the U.S. is not doing a good job of this in its own country or in the colonial practices of its own BigTech monopolies.
The moves announced Friday add to a growing list of Chinese entities and officials that have been targeted with the same Magnitsky sanctions over Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. Chinese tech companies had already been coming under intense scrutiny from the Biden administration and the Donald Trump administration before it over their alleged roles in helping Beijing carry out its policies in Xinjiang.
China needs to understand its reputation is under threat and must act in a more humanitarian manner if it ever seeks to repair the damage.
Yet the fact remains China is now the great innovator and smart city incubator of the majority of future technology. From EVs to AVs to consumer-AI apps its makers will begin to dominate in the 21st century and its startups will grow the fastest.
This is because China is doing innovate in a planned and methodical manner. It’s my belief that China actually has the best chance of regulating AI to protect human rights in the long-run. Even if their unity in uniformity approach is rather homogenous and somewhat dangerous to the minds and hearts of their own people - but that’s collectivism. It’s very different from individualistic societies.
Rights groups, analysts and the US government have expressed alarm that cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence, facial recognition and other biometric tools have been used to track and monitor Uygurs and other minority groups in the far-west Xinjiang region, where Washington accuses Beijing of committing a genocide. Minorities and journalists continue to be targeted in China that some could argue are building a harsh police state that’s training an oppressive surveillance regime.
Guilty by Association - China’s Genocide Problem
So are Tech firms their guilty by association? That’s basically all technology firms in China by default. They are legally obliged to be extensions of the state, that’s what the CCP is doing, that’s their power-play against the rest of the world.
Pressuring Huawei or SenseTime or anybody else won’t solve the problem. It might only slow China down with respect to their incredibly strategic attacks on the current order by economic, technological and artificial intelligence leveraging on the future of surveillance capitalism. Years of corporate espionage, state backed cybersecurity and University insider collusion has led to China’s pioneering innovation.
Human rights must apply to corporations and AI firms, but how? A global body that regulates A.I and technology platforms that’s independent from nations must be set up with objective measures and true global authority. Neither Beijing or the White House should or can have that authority.
“The mass detention of Uygurs is part of an effort by PRC authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to create a police state in the Xinjiang region,” the Treasury Department said. How the NSA or Facebook uses our data and has invaded our privacy has never been fully explained to the general public.
When America sees a common threat to its style of gangster democracy, it can blow the whistle, unfortunately that wont’ work forever. The Black Lives Matter movement exists for a reason. The state of Latin-X populations in terms of wealth inequality (and opportunity) in America isn’t by accident. Slavery’s impact on centuries of systemic racial inequality and oppression still exist, if not in an openly genocidal manner (if you don’t count police murder that is).
The problem is China isn’t taking responsibility. Beijing denies all accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and says its policies are helping to lift the population out of poverty and counter religious “extremism”. It’s diplomats make horrific and bullying statements to smaller countries. Its reputation is being castrated on the global stage.
America has taught the world over the last 40 years that a ‘might is right’ approach is good enough so China is doing the same now. Companies like SenseTime are truly caught in the middle.
China’s “military-industrial complex” will only get stronger in the 2020s and especially the 2030s while Silicon Valley is already consolidating into just a few monopiles as evidence by how much share the top six companies have of the NASDAQ 100. This also creates Billionaires more quickly without real innovation or value being provided to society as a whole.
The centralization in America is causing extreme bottlenecks to real innovation. China has always another firm waiting in the wings, if it’s not Huawei or SenseTime, it will be another that’s obliged to work with the Chinese State by law.
The truth is human rights don’t apply to huge BigTech firms, and certainly don’t apply to Chinese AI startups in the way we conceive them. To blacklist your competitors isn’t what free-market capitalism is supposed to look like and it doesn’t solve any real issues.
America is not a leader in the legal protection of its own citizens against algorithms, mental health issues from social platforms or sufficient privacy protection. America is a failure of antitrust regulation and consumer protections with regards to human rights, maybe China can actually do better in the long-run.