Microsoft Corporation has been collaborating with various researchers linked to a Chinese military-backed university on the technology of artificial intelligence, elevating concerns that firms of US are contributing to the high-tech surveillance of China and apparatus of censorship.
Over the previous year, researchers at Microsoft Corporation Research Asia in Beijing have co-authored at least three different papers with scholars affiliated with National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) of China, which is overseen by the Commission of Central Military.
The research covers a number of Artificial Intelligence topics, such as machine reading and faces analysis, which enables computers systems to understand and parse the online text.
While it is not unusual for Chinese and US scholars to conduct joint research, work of Microsoft Corporation with the military-backed NUDT comes amid rapidly increasing scrutiny around China-US academic partnerships, as well as high-tech surveillance drive of China in the northwest region of Xinjiang.
The brand new technologies and methods described in their joint papers could very well be contributing to the crackdown of China on minorities in Xinjiang, for which they are using technology of facial recognition, said Helena Legarda, a research associate at the Mercator Institute for the Studies of China, who focuses on foreign and security policies of China.
Many of these advanced and modern technologies are dual-use, so they could also contribute to the modernization and informatization drive of PLA (People’s Liberation Army), helping the Chinese military move closer to the goal of 2049 of being a world-class military, she added.
In an email, a Microsoft Corporation spokesman told AFP that the researchers of the company conduct fundamental research with leading experts and scholars from around the world to advance our advanced understanding of technology.
In each case, the research fully complies with local and US laws and is published to make sure transparency so everyone can actually benefit from our entire work, he said Thursday.
The growing concerns around violations of human rights in Xinjiang have also added quite a pressure to US firms with business in the specific region, where some one million Uighurs and other mostly minorities of Muslim Turkic language-speaking are held in re-education camps, according to a UN panel of various experts.
In the month of February, US biotechnology manufacturer Thermo Fisher announced globally it would stop selling equipment used to create a database of DNA of the Uighur minority to China.
That same month, a security researcher exposed a massive database compiled by Chinese tech firm SenseNets, which stored the personal information and tracked the locations of 2.6 million people in Xinjiang.
At the time of the data leak, Microsoft was listed as one of SenseNets’ partners. The company declined to comment.
But experts have also stressed that, in the case of NUDT, Microsoft’s co-published work is open and publicly accessible.
“The authors are basically sharing with the rest of the world how to replicate their approaches, models, and results,” said Andy Chun, an adjunct computer science professor at the City University of Hong Kong.
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