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Western Academia Helps Build China's Automated Racism

By Coda

August 7, 2019

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China's government is waging a well-documented mass surveillance and internment campaign against the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim people in the country's far western region of Xinjiang, where around one million have been detained in "re-education" camps. Facial recognition and other biometrics are being deployed to track Uyghurs and other minorities. Most of China's billion-dollar facial recognition startups now sell ethnicity analytics software for police to automatically distinguish Uyghurs from others.

Academic papers that refine facial recognition techniques to identify Uyghurs are being published in U.S. and European academic journals and presented at international computer science conferences. China's largest biometrics research conference, last held in Xinjiang in 2018, included prominent U.S. artificial intelligence researchers as keynote speakers. One paper at the conference, co-authored by local police, discussed ways to find "terrorism" and "extreme religion" content in Uyghur script. 

Separately, Imperial College London is hosting an open facial recognition competition where one of the sponsors is a Chinese AI startup called DeepGlint which advertises its Uyghur ethnicity recognition capabilities to police on its Chinese website.

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