During President Trump’s visit to Beijing, he appeared on screen for a special address at a tech conference.
First he spoke in English. Then he switched to Mandarin Chinese.
Mr. Trump doesn’t speak Chinese. The video was a publicity stunt, designed to show off the voice capabilities of iFlyTek, a Chinese artificial intelligence company with both innovative technology in addition to troubling ties to Chinese state security. IFlyTek has said its technology can monitor a car full of people or a crowded room, identify a targeted individual’s voice in addition to record everything that will person says.
“IFlyTek,” the image of Mr. Trump said in Chinese, “is actually genuinely fantastic.”
As China tests the frontiers of artificial intelligence, iFlyTek serves as a compelling example of both the country’s sci-fi ambitions in addition to the technology’s darker dystopian possibilities.
The Chinese company uses sophisticated A.I. to power image in addition to voice recognition systems that will can help doctors with their diagnoses, aid teachers in grading tests in addition to let drivers control their cars with their voices. Even some global companies are impressed: Delphi, a major American auto supplier, offers iFlyTek’s technology to carmakers in China, while Volkswagen plans to build the Chinese company’s speech recognition technology into many of its cars in China next year.
At the same time, iFlyTek hosts a laboratory to develop voice surveillance capabilities for China’s domestic security forces. In an October report, a human rights group said the company was helping the authorities compile a biometric voice database of Chinese citizens that will could be used to track activists in addition to others.
Those tight ties with the government could give iFlyTek in addition to additional Chinese companies an edge in an emerging brand new field. China’s financial support in addition to its loosely enforced in addition to untested privacy laws give Chinese companies considerable resources in addition to access to voices, faces in addition to additional biometric data in vast quantities, which could help them develop their technologies, experts say.
China “does not contain the stringent privacy laws that will Western companies have, nor are Chinese citizens against having their data collected, as (arguably speaking) government monitoring is actually a fact of China,” analysts with the research firm Sanford C. Bernstein wrote in a report in November.
Already, China’s companies have at times edged out foreign rivals. IFlyTek has won major competitions for speech recognition in addition to translation. Two years before Microsoft did, Baidu, the Chinese internet search company, created software capable of matching human skills at understanding speech. This kind of year the Shanghai-based start-up Yitu took first place in a major facial recognition contest run by the United States government.
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IFlyTek in addition to additional Chinese companies say they follow China’s laws in addition to protect user data. although they agree that will the sheer number of users in China, plus the government’s single-minded drive to dominate the brand new technology, puts them at an advantage.
“China has entered the artificial intelligence age together with the U.S.,” said Liu Qingfeng, iFlyTek’s chairman, at the Beijing conference. “although due to the advantage of a huge amount of users in addition to China’s social governance, A.I. will develop faster in addition to spread via China to the globe.”
An iFlyTek spokeswoman said the company had yet to receive required permission via officials in Anhui, the Chinese province where that will is actually based, to speak with the foreign news media.
IFlyTek is actually portrayed from the Chinese media both as a technology innovator in addition to as an ally of the government. Last year iFlyTek helped prevent the loss of about $75 million in telecommunications fraud by helping the police target scammers, according to The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by the Communist Party. Its article quotes a Chinese security official as saying collecting voice patterns is actually like taking fingerprints or recording people with closed-circuit television cameras, meaning the practice does not violate their privacy.
“We work with the Ministry of Public Security to pin down the criminals,” said Liu Junfeng, the general manager of the company’s automotive business, at a conference in September.
Where iFlyTek gets its data is actually not clear. although one of its owners is actually China Mobile, the state-controlled cellular network giant, which has more than 800 million subscribers. IFlyTek preloads its products on millions of China Mobile phones in addition to runs the hotline service for China Mobile, which did not respond to a request for comment.
“Data is actually gold,” said Anil Jain, a professor who studies biometrics at Michigan State University. “These days you cannot design an accurate in addition to robust recognition system for anything” without data.