China’s Emerging Surveillance State

Security, surveillance and social control form important parts of China’s AI ambitions.

On Tuesday this video went viral on Chinese and English social media platforms. We tracked the video to the Communist Youth League operated news website K618.cn and it appears likely to be originally from Chinese Artificial Intelligence start-up SenseTime. Similar facial recognition software footage from SenseTime was featured in this WSJ report.

SenseTime has a reported valuation of USD 1.5 billion and this year the company raised the single largest round of funding (USD 410 million) in AI history. Their heavy-hitting client list includes Weibo, Huawei, and China Mobile. A 2016 media article revealed that the company can monitor more than 300 million people through its visual image processing technology.

Singapore’s Prime Minister paid a visit to the AI start-up when he was in Beijing just last week. The Straits Times also reported Singapore’s Defence Minister was given a demonstration of the military applications of SenseTime’s technologies including how AI can be used to analyse satellite imagery for military assets, topographic and terrain data.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at SenseTime HQ (Source: SenseTime Weibo)

In July this year China’s State Council announced plans for China to become a global AI leader by 2030 with a domestic industry worth nearly USD 150 billion. International and domestic security, surveillance and social control form important parts of these AI ambitions.

This is just one of a huge range of activity in the AI space in China. ASPI Cyber Policy will be writing more about these topics in the months to come. For now, watch this great overview from The Wall Street Journal:

Danielle Cave is a senior analyst in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre (ASPI Cyber Policy). Follow her on Twitter here: @DaniellesCave

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