ChinAI #121: For China, Germany (not just the US) is a model of innovation

The big 4: Planck, Helmholtz, Fraunhofer, and Leibniz

Greetings from a world where…

newsletters really need editors

Thanks to Ryan Khurana for highlighting an error in last week’s issue: I added a zero to the number of transactions Alibaba Cloud handled on Singles Day. I’ve corrected this and noted the edit. 11.18.20 NOTE: This post was edited to adjust a translation error regarding the scale of transactions Alibaba Cloud could handle.

…As always, the searchable archive of all past issues is here. Please please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay support access for all AND compensation for awesome ChinAI contributors).

Feature Translation: Innovation is More Than Invention — A Detailed Explanation of the Big Four of the German Industry-University-Research System

Context: 远望智库 (Techxcope). First time coming across an article by this consultancy. Another example of this big source of info asymmetry that more people should exploit to know what’s actually happening in China tech. Techxcope is just one of a number of rising Chinese consultancies (e.g. Qianzhan, CCID, Yiou, etc. — all of which have featured in previous issues). Specifically, Techxcope covers 9 verticals (screenshot below), which includes civil military fusion and strategic frontier technologies.

Even when platforms like Techxcope don’t directly produce analysis, they are good connection points to other in-depth research. For instance, Techxcope recently shared this article on intelligentized warfare from China Institute of Command and Control (中国指挥与控制学会), which regularly discusses this topic in conferences and publications. Elsa Kania, one of the best researchers on the Chinese military AI, has cited China Institute of Command and Control in her work.

Sourced from Techxcope, this week’s feature translation asks why is Germany continuously succeeding in scientific and technological innovation? Two researchers from the Max Planck Institute won Nobel Prizes in 2020, and Germany consistently ranks first in various innovation scoreboards such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. Specifically, it examines Germany’s “big four” research institutions: Max Planck Society, Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers, Fraunhofer Society for the Advancement of Applied Research (the main focus of this article), and Leibniz Association.

Key Takeaways:

  • Germany (not just the U.S.) as a key comparator/innovative model for China: “There is no doubt that Fraunhofer is a model of applied R&D that many Chinese research institutions and enterprises dream of becoming,” the article states. “This (Fraunhofer) model has won the favor of many countries, especially China. We hope to learn or even surpass it in a very quick and effective way.” This is about improving the systemic efficiency of innovation.

  • What exactly are the unique characteristics of this model? Non-university, research organizations supported by public funding. The big four vary in different ways, with Fraunhofer most focused on applied research. Fraunhofer is the “bridge” or the “technology porter” that reduces the distance from basic research results to actual applications.

A non-exhaustive list of interesting things about Fraunhofer:

  • The basics: 80 research institutes, 24,500 employees, 2.1 billion euros in scientific research every year. Most of the funds come from research contracts signed with industrial companies.

  • Starting in 2015, Fraunhofer started to establish competence centers in sustainability, intelligent manufacturing, photonics, etc. These are similar to US gov. tech transfer centers but more expansive in their functions, which include supporting SMEs in innovation, establishing apprenticeships/talent training links, and collaboratively developing a technology roadmap

  • Funding allocation from Fraunhofer HQ to each of the 80 research institutes incentivizes commercialization: they get the same amount of basic funds from the gov each year, but the rest of the funding is linked to revenues and commissioned income (from company partners or EU projects) from the previous year.

  • One prominent success case is the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, which was the main force in the development of the MP3. For more on the history of the MP3, see this NPR backgrounder.

  • Basic HR policy of flexible arrangements, which creates a virtuous flow of talent: 60% are contract personnel that work for a specific period (such as 5 years); then they take their talents to companies, universities, South Beach, etc.

More in FULL TRANSLATION: Innovation is More Than Invention: Detailed Explanation of the Big Four of the German Industry-University-Research System

ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)

Must-read: Liberal Chinese Americans Are Fighting Right-Wing WeChat Disinformation

I think Shen Lu is leading in terms of must-read recommendations on ChinAI. A rare peek into the journalism that serves the Chinese immigrant community in the United States.

Should-read: Meeting the China Challenge — A New American Strategy for Technology Competition

From a working group of 28 China specialists and experts, a new report outlining a national strategy for U.S.-China science and technology competition, framed as a guide for the transition team for the next White House administration. It sets forth broad policy objectives as well as specific recommendations for a new and integrated approach to competition by the U.S. in four domains of science and technology, including a very sensible section on artificial intelligence.

I would have liked to see some discussion (even if it was just a hand-wavy acknowledgement) of avoiding accident, misuse, and structural risks linked to competition in these technology domains.

Should-listen: Jennifer Pan studied clickbait in Chinese propaganda. You won’t believe what she discovered!

A very cool initiative from the Sinica podcast: “the first installment in a three-part series produced in collaboration with the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), highlighting the groundbreaking work of young social scientists who are focused on China. In this episode, Kaiser chats with Jennifer Pan, an assistant professor of communication at Stanford, about three of her research papers that illuminate different aspects of social control in the P.R.C.: the use of the dibao social welfare system, hiring decisions, and the use of clickbait headlines by government officials on social media.”

Should-read: Roundtable on Thucydides’s Trap? Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relations

A H-Diplo roundtable on Steve Chan’s new book, which takes aim at Allison’s 2017 book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap? According to the H-Diplo intro, Allison’s book advances a sort of folk wisdom that is loosely supported by historical renderings of power transitions freighted with the risk of war.” In one of the reviews of Chan’s book, Jack S. Levy calls it, “the most thorough critique to date of Allison’s argument and the reasoning and evidence underlying it.” Ayşe Zarakol writes, “I would pronounce Chan the clear winner of this round. It is hard to disagree with Chan’s contention that Allison’s treatment of the historical record is rather problematic, and that power transition theory is too deterministic in its predictions when it comes to U.S.-China relations.”

Thank you for reading and engaging.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).

Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at chinainewsletter@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jjding99

ChinAI #120: Singles Day and the Making of Alibaba Cloud

Plus, how Dingtalk opened up Alibaba Cloud's imagination

Greetings from a world where…

frubbles flourish

…As always, the searchable archive of all past issues is here. Please please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay support access for all AND compensation for awesome ChinAI contributors).

Feature Translation: Alibaba Cloud’s Difficult “Peak”

Context: This past week was Singles Day (11/11), the world’s largest online shopping day, when unmarried people treat themselves to presents and gifts. Though the idea of Singles Day was conceived by some Chinese university students in the 1990s, Alibaba transformed it into a massive one-day shopping event. The lineage of Alibaba Cloud, China’s top cloud computing service and now Alibaba’s 2nd largest source of revenue, can be traced to preparations for the massive traffic to Alibaba’s e-commerce units (Taobao/Tmall) generated on this day. The feature translation, from Leiphone, uses Singles Day as a window to look at where Alibaba Cloud came from and where it’s going.

Key Takeaways:

  • Some stats to give a sense of the scale we’re dealing with here: In 2019, Singles Day peak traffic = 544,000 transactions/second, with 100% of Ali’s core systems on the cloud; In 2020, peak traffic = 583,000 transactions/second, and Ali has gone completely cloud native. Singles Day gives Alibaba Cloud the world’s record traffic peak each year.

  • Singles Day used to be Ali’s Mount Everest: The network traffic they would get each year would “force” technological breakthroughs (similar to how big challenges like NASA’s X-Prize incentivize innovations).

  • Article also gives a window into Alibaba’s top 10 cutting-edge technologies for this year’s Singles Day, which includes: Xiaomanlv (logistics robot for last-mile deliveries), real-time live translation, virtual anchors (for livestreams), Ali voice robot, industrial vision, operation and maintenance robots, full cloud native, cognitive intelligence engine, liquid cooling for data centers — note all the AI connections in this list.

  • Middleware (2015) and Cloud Native (2019) are two strategic evolutions in Alibaba’s history: From the “De-IOE” (IBM,Oracle, and EMC) initiative in 2010, to the Feitian “moon landing project” in 2013 (first attempt at a cloud operating system), to the establishment of the DAMO academy in 2017, Alibaba likes to continually re-brand and revolutionize. I’ve covered these two topics in ChinAI #114.

The article delves into the integration of Alibaba Cloud and DingTalk:

  • Developed in 2014, DingTalk is Alibaba’s Slack-like enterprise chat platform. The star product of Alibaba’s business-facing services, DingTalk boasts more than 300 million users, 15 million organizational clients, and more than 200,000 developers. Annual transaction volume of software developers on DingTalk increased by more than 800%.

  • Why is the integration of Cloud and DingTalk so important? Let’s look at the global “3A competition” (Alibaba, AWS, Azure) in cloud computing. Microsoft Azure and its Office-related products are deeply integrated. The same is true with Amazon (AWS) and Slack. Now, think about Alibaba’s position: 13 of Alibaba Cloud’s 15 million organizational users are small and medium enterprisesSMEs (Recall, last week’s issue on the difficulties with digital intelligentization in China’s SMEs). Enter DingTalk, which has “opened up a broad path for Alibaba Cloud to enter traditional industries.” Alibaba Cloud’s Mt. Everest is no longer handling all the traffic on Singles Day — it’s about building the digital infrastructure for all these businesses across all types of industries.

  • A confession: I honestly had never heard of DingTalk before this issue, even though it’s named after me (joking). More like Ding talks too much, am I rite? But I think it’s a nice example of how much there is to learn for even people who are known as “experts” on China’s tech scene. When I think about which articles and voices to amplify in the Four to Forward section, the number one thing I’m looking for is people who know how much they don’t know.

FULL TRANSLATION: Alibaba Cloud’s Difficult "Peak"

ChinAI (Four to Forward)

Must-read: The automatic culture of the world's favorite new social network

Kyle Chayka writes a "ekphrasis" of TikTok, an attempt to translate a piece of visual art (or the use of visual media in this case) into words. I was hooked after this paragraph: “Some of my favorite writing might fall into this vein. Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1933 essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’ narrates the Japanese encounter with Western technology like electric lights and porcelain toilets. Walter Benjamin’s 1936 ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ shows how the rise of photography changed how people looked at visual art. By describing such experiences as exactly as possible, these essays become valuable artifacts in their own right, documenting historic shifts in human perception that happened as a result of tools we invented.

Should-read: China’s President Xi Jinping Personally Scuttled Jack Ma’s Ant IPO

A meticulously reported WSJ story by Jing Yang and Lingling Wei, packed with important context, on the behind-the-scenes developments surrounding the halt of Ant Financial’s IPO. One thing that stuck out for me is that even though the headline emphasizes Xi Jinping’s personal role, the actual reported facts show that Jack Ma’s October speech (which criticized Beijing’s efforts to control financial risks) made senior officials angry and triggered backlash from officials who had long called for tighter financial regulation. It’s not like Xi Jinping woke up one day and decided he wanted to crush some ants.

Should-read: Why Chinese tech giants struggle to make good B2B software

Lillian Li translates a fascinating mega Twitter thread from a product manager at Bytedance called Passluo, which breaks down the B2B software landscape in China, with a focus on why Chinese tech giants have had difficulty making the transition from consumer-oriented innovations to business-to-business verticals. Fitting in nicely with this week’s feature translation, Lillian translates:

Alicloud is the exception to the rule. But first of all, Alibaba has B2B genes from its early Alibaba marketplace days; second is that Jack Ma backed Wang Jian against a crowd of senior dissenters. It's a big strategic bet, and the cloud space is evolving quickly enough, but even with all this, Alicloud was still only 10% of Alibaba's e-commerce revenue in 2019. DingTalk is still in loss-making mode.

Lillian writes the “Chinese Characteristics” newsletter, which features longform analysis about tech in China from the perspective of a “sea turtle” (returnee) VC, sent out every Wednesday.

Should-read: Contact Tracing Gone Way Too Far in China — some cases of extreme privacy leaks (in Mandarin)

From the 雷斯林 WeChat account, some nasty personal info leaks of people who tested positive for Covid in Shanghai — included mobile phone number, home address, BMI index, parents’ address, info on their friends, girlfriend, and girlfriend’s friends. Author saw these leaks shared in at least 3 WeChat groups of more than 300 people. Based on a Zhihu thread with some additional context on 雷斯林, I chose not to do this as the feature translation this week, as it seems to be a bit of a click-baity account, but definitely something to watch for people interested in contact tracing and privacy in China.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).

Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at chinainewsletter@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jjding99

11.18.20 NOTE: This post was edited to adjust a translation error regarding the scale of transactions Alibaba Cloud could handle.

ChinAI #119: Digital Intelligentization in China's SMEs

Results from surveys of 1000 small, medium, and micro businesses in China

Greetings from a world where…

renewal is afoot

…As always, the searchable archive of all past issues is here. Please please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay support access for all AND compensation for awesome ChinAI contributors).

Feature Translation: Market Research Report on Digital Intelligentization Solutions for China’s Small and Medium Enterprises

Context: Drawing from research on nearly 1000 small, medium, and micro businesses, Synced’s think tank has published a new report on digital intelligentization in China. This week’s translation consists of the summary slidedeck (the ones with a comment mark out the ones I looked at more in-depth).

Key Takeaways:

  • Slide 4: an overview of national-level policies related to SME digitization and digital intelligentization, which dates back to 2015

  • Slide 6-7 gives sectoral breakdown of China’s SMEs: top 3 industry designations for SMEs are wholesale and retail (30%), manufacturing, and business services; for micro-enterprises operated by self-employed individuals, the top three are wholesale and retail (50.6%), accommodation and dining, and transportation and logistics

  • Slide 10 on the big picture of digital intelligentization among SMEs: the total number of SMEs that are initiating digital intelligentization projects is only about 10 million, less than one-tenth of the total number of SMEs.

  • Slide 11: 67.74% of surveyed SMEs have increased their investment in digital intelligentization projects to varying degrees this year compared to 2019.

  • Slide 18: Nearly half of the surveyed SMEs agree that they lack technical experts related to digital intelligentization projects; other major barriers include: large deviations between the project quote and (the company’s) budget, unclear application scenarios, and poor data foundations.

  • Slide 25: Sometimes I fall prey to this model of Chinese tech giants as the primary engines of China’s entire digitization process. But, per a survey of 428 digital intelligentization solution providers, SMEs accounted for 76%, and start-up companies accounted for 48.77% (note: these are two different typologies of characterizing companies, so that’s why the combined figures exceed 100%).

  • Slide 28-29: Lists of top companies in different verticals of digital intelligentization, including: comprehensive, business administration, dining and accommodations, transportation, construction, etc.

FULL(ish) Translation: Market Research Report on Digital Intelligentization Solutions for China’s Small and Medium Enterprises

ChinAI (Four to Forward)

Should-read: Canaries in Technology Mines — Warning Signs of Transformative Progress in AI

Zoe Cremer, a Research Scholar at FHI, and Jess Whittlestone, a Senior Research Fellow at Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, introduce a methodology for identifying early warning signs of transformative progress in AI, to aid anticipatory governance and research prioritization. This paper won the Best Paper Award at the 1st International Workshop on Evaluating Progress in Artificial Intelligence.

Should-read: The State of AI Ethics Report

This Montreal AI Ethics Institute (MAIEI) report provides a very useful update on developments in the field of AI ethics. As Danit Gal, a technology advisor at the United Nations, writes, “MAIEI’s reports lower the AI ethics literacy threshold. Their deep-dives, summaries, and analyses serve as an accessible and engaging means to interact with this field and its exciting and consequential developments.”

Should-read: The Untold Tech Revolution Sweeping through Rural China

From the NYT review of Xiaowei Wang’s book Blockchain Chicken Farm about tech in China’s countryside:

Consider the boom in the production of pork, a hot commodity among China’s increasingly prosperous diners. To increase the yield of pork farms, Alibaba trained a new artificial intelligence, “ET Agricultural Brain,” on vast amounts of data from pork operations, the better to predict how to increase yield. (They set up entire “digital towns” where young rural workers sit all day long clicking on pictures of pigs, labeling them as sick or healthy, to feed the A.I.’s smarts.) In the short run, the A.I. does indeed help optimize soaring pork production. It’s a win for diners, for pork producers and for government, which yearns for China to achieve “food security.” (“The food bowl of the Chinese people must always remain firmly in their own hands,” as Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, has said.)

But nature does not always respond so obediently. One key strategy that emerges from all this high-efficiency pork farming? Feeding the animals “industrial pig swill,” a goulash that, cannibalistically, includes ground-up pig parts. And this, in turn, creates dangerous new vectors for disease, spreading the dreaded African swine fever so badly that by 2019 it tore through China and destroyed nearly one-quarter of the world’s pigs.

Should-read: Most of America’s “Most Promising” AI Startups Have Immigrant Founders

Tina Huang, Zachary Arnold, and Remco. Zwetsloot in a CSET data brief:

“Half of Silicon Valley’s startups have at least one foreign-born founder, and immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start new businesses. To understand how immigration shapes AI entrepreneurship in particular in the United States, Huang, Arnold and Zwetsloot analyze the 2019 AI 50, Forbes’s list of the “most promising” U.S.-based AI startups. They find that 66 percent of these startups had at least one immigrant founder. The authors write that policymakers should consider lifting some current immigration restrictions and creating new pathways for entrepreneurs.”

Thank you for reading and engaging.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).

Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at chinainewsletter@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jjding99

ChinAI #118: A Tale of Two Investigative Reports

One on China's reckless chip investments, the other on China Twitter's reckless ties with alt-right disinformation campaigns

Greetings from a world where…

we need responsible gatekeepers

…As always, the searchable archive of all past issues is here. Please please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay support access for all AND compensation for awesome ChinAI contributors).

Feature Translation: “China chips” triggers a tide of unfinished projects -- The collapse of six chip projects (each tens of billions of RMB)

Context: An investigative report by 瞭望 (Outlook Magazine), a state-run publication written for Communist Party bureaucrats and policy makers. Outlook has done exposé in the past, including on a secret network of detention centers as well as on surging mass incidents and protests. Think of them as investigative but not independent, as they are still beholden to the party.

Key Takeaways:

  • In the past year, six large-scale (tens of billions RMB) semiconductor projects in five provinces been shut down in succession: Nanjing Dekema in Jiangsu, Dehuai Semiconductor in Jiangsu, GF (Chengdu) Integrated Circuit Manufacturing in Sichuan, Wuhan Hongxin in Hubei, Huaxintong in Guizhou, and Shaanxi Kuntong in Shaanxi.

  • Let’s zoom in on Nanjing Dekema, a “star company” once known as “Nanjing’s TSMC.” Once the darling of Nanjing’s Economic and Technological Development Zone, it planned investments of US$billion, but now the factory area is overgrown with weeds. The company’s legal representative, Li Ruiwei, cannot be tracked down and has repeatedly ignored court summons. According to a Nanjing court, the company is facing 54 labor dispute case, in addition to two other cases regarding other services, that involve a total amount of more than 35 million RMB.

  • These reckless investments hurt the chip industry. Semiconductor companies take advantage of local governments who lack industry knowledge, and basically get governments to give them free land, factories, and massive subsidies. Per interviews with company managers who had employees poached by these six failed projects, talented employees wasted two or three years and now can’t keep up with the technology on their original teams.

  • The broader context of this is China’s chip-making fever. According to Qichacha data, the number of chip-related companies in China has grown rapidly in the first half of this year. In the second quarter of this year alone, there were 4,600 newly registered companies, a year-on-year increase of 207%.

  • Consider the specific example of compound semiconductors, chips made up of two or more elements (e.g. gallium arsenide). According to Zhu Jing, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing Semiconductor Industry Association: “In the first half of 2020 alone, nearly 20 places in China signed or started construction on compound semiconductor projects, with a total planned investment of more than 60 billion RMB. Moreover, 80% of these projects have landed in second- and third-tier or even fourth-tier cities in China, generally in areas where the semiconductor industry has a weak foundation and no relevant project construction experience. The sustainability of these projects has once again aroused industry concerns.”

The broader lesson here is to take big technology fund numbers with a grain of salt. I co-wrote an article in Foreign Affairs that makes this point with regards to China’s much ballyhooed $150 billion semiconductor fund, which had invested only $12 billion since its establishment in 2014.

FULL TRANSLATION: “China chips” triggers a tide of unfinished projects -- The collapse of six chip projects (each tens of billions of RMB)

Gatekeeping the Gatekeepers: China Twitter’s Amplification of Christopher Balding

This week’s second exposé is on the involvement of a prominent “China-watcher,” Christopher Balding, in spreading “an elaborate conspiracy theory involving former Vice President Joe Biden's son and business in China.” This week’s welcome message links to a story about how the Wall Street Journal responsibly decided to not further amplify this conspiracy theory despite the efforts of right-wing groups.

Some background on the case:

  • Balding, a former professor of Fulbright University Vietnam, and Mark Simon of Apple Daily, created a fake “intelligence report” about Hunter Biden’s connections to the Chinese government, which also included a fabricated report author named Martin Aspen, whose profile picture was created with an AI face generator (See, I told you this newsletter is about AI!).

  • Balding claimed he authored small parts of the report.

  • The document was amplified by Balding’s blog and conservative and conspiracy communities, received 70,000 public interactions, per the social media analysis tool BuzzSumo. As NBC news reports, “The document was also posted on the extremist forum 8kun by Q, the anonymous account behind the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.”

The NBC exposé has made quite an impact. Mark Simon has resigned from Apple Daily. As Wei Ting writes, “Every China Watcher is now tripping over themselves to disavow association with the names involved, or casting shade on their background and motives.”

In May, my year-in-review post emphasized the dangers of discursive bandwagoning in China-watching circles. How do we prevent this? One important aspect is to be very careful about which voices to amplify. There are a lot of people like Christopher Balding out there, but not many of them have 51.6k followers on Twitter and regularly get quoted in the Financial Times.

With that in mind, I think it’s important to review how the gatekeepers amplified Balding’s platform in the past. As Gabriel Wildau recounts, “I remember the day the FT quoted Balding twice in 24 hours -- on hilariously disparate topics. First story was about fintech IPOs and the second was about academic publishers facing censorship pressure. He's an expert on everything!” See his full thread below:

Wang Feng, editor-in-chief of FT Chinese, writes:

As Wang Feng notes, some people did cast doubts on Balding’s reports on Chinese companies Huawei and Zhenhua, which often involved questionable research practices and unreliable sourcing. For instance, Mike Gow has consistently criticized Balding’s work:

I was curious about how Bill Bishop, who writes Sinocism (“the presidential daily brief for China hands”), covered the Balding’s Huawei report. I’ve covered Bill’s missteps as a gatekeeper in past issues: ChinAI #54, ChinAI #90. Here’s the section from the July 8, 2019 issue of Sinocism. Balding’s paper is presented as sixth most essential (out of eight) topics of the day:

6. Huawei

Professor Christopher Balding has released a paper claiming to document links between Huawei employees and the PLA and PRC security services. The work is drawing both praise and condemnation.

Huawei Technologies’ Links to Chinese State Security Services by Christopher Balding :: SSRN

Using a unique dataset of CVs, this paper analyzes the relationship between key Huawei personnel and the Chinese state security services. Based upon an analysis of this dataset, I find there is strong evidence that Huawei personnel act at the direction of Chinese state intelligence, and that there exists a deep and lasting relationship between Huawei, its employees, and the Chinese state. This should raise questions within Western governments worried about Chinese access to domestic information.

Huawei CVs show close links with military, study says | Financial Times $$

The research was conducted by Christopher Balding, a professor at Fulbright University Vietnam, and researchers at the Henry Jackson Society, a UK think-tank. Trawling through a database of leaked Chinese CVs, they found Huawei employees who appeared to be simultaneously employed by institutions affiliated with the Chinese military, others who previously worked in areas related to hacking or telecom monitoring, and still more who described their work at Huawei as linked to the Ministry of State Security (MSS), an entity involved in cyber warfare and network penetration.

Responses to Comments on Huawei CV Paper - Balding's World

The paper is not an academic paper. No, and I never said it was. It was never intended or designed as a journal article type paper for many reasons. The purpose of the paper was to provide information into the public domain that did not exist before in a concise and readable form for everyone from politicians in different countries to citizens hearing about the issue. The focus was on describing the data the specific profiles. That is it. It is not a good academic paper because it was never intended to be one.

‘Smoking gun’: Huawei staff employment records link them to Chinese military agencies | National Post

The CVs of up to 25,000 Huawei employees were uncovered by Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the Fulbright University Vietnam, while investigating Huawei’s ownership structure. The CVs were uploaded on Chinese recruitment platforms in the past year and began to appear online and on publicly accessible sites. Prof. Balding, in conjunction with the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think-tank, concluded that about 100 Huawei staff had connections with the Chinese military or intelligence agencies and their “backgrounds indicated experience in matters of national security”.

To Bill’s credit, he does acknowledge the report has drawn criticism. But while he doesn’t link directly to the criticism, he does make sure to link directly to Balding’s blog — the same blog that at the center of spreading the alt-right disinformation campaign exposed earlier this week. Bill’s newsletter goes to 85,000 email inboxes, a number that already exceeds the social interactions on Balding’s original post of the fake intelligence report. If that’s not amplification, I’m not sure what is.

Again, this is not about nit-picking every past newsletter issue or Tweet. If you search ChinAI archives, you won’t find a single reference to Balding other than this issue, but I’m sure I’ve made my fair share of mistakes regarding amplification, and I encourage people to call me out on this front. The hope is that this is a moment for people in gatekeeping positions to be more careful about which voices they amplify.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Speaking of being more careful about amplification, I ran out of time to read the stuff I was considering recommending, so no ChinAI Four to Forward this week.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).

Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at chinainewsletter@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jjding99

ChinAI #117: Around the Horn (edition 3)

Plus, upcoming GovAI webinar on censorship's implications for AI

Greetings from a world where…

fall is in full bloom

…As always, the searchable archive of all past issues is here. Please please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay support access for all AND compensation for awesome ChinAI contributors).

Around the Horn (3rd edition)

You know the drill by now:

  • short preview of 10 articles related to ChinAI — all published this past week and sourced from scans of WeChat accounts and groups

  • reply to the email and/or comment on the Substack post with the number of the article you’re most intrigued by, and we’ll translate a couple for next week!

  • some added weight to votes from subscribers that are supporting ChinAI financially

1) One-minute survey: What are the science and tech ethics issues that you are most concerned about?

Summary: Background info on a survey of Chinese academic circles re: their views on the most pressing science and tech ethics issues. Article summarizes the effort and links to the full text of the questionnaire.

Source: Duan Weiwen, a professor in the philosophy of science and technology (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), who is an active researcher of AI ethics.

2) Sex, Love, and Robots

Summary: A letter to the reader on the state of sex robots, written from the perspective of a robot from 2050 named Avary.

Source: 造就 (Zaojiu) — very interesting Shanghai-based platform that started out doing events similar to Ted Talks, but now is doing a range of creative media

3) Beijing’s enthusiasm for self-driving cars — even Wall Street has felt it

Summary: Open to anyone in Beijing, the most popular “tourist attraction” in Beijing is a trial of Baidu Apollo’s self-driving cars (only on designated test routes).

Source: 量子位 (Qbit AI) — AI-focused news site that pumps out many articles about AI on a daily basis. This one’s a lengthier report.

4) DJI gets back on the road

Summary: Wang Tao (AKA Frank Wang), the founder and CEO of DJI, is reflecting on new directions for DJI, the biggest seller of consumer drones. What challenges has DJI encountered, and where does its road lead?

Source: 雷锋网 (Leiphone) — a long-time source for ChinAI translations, which I think of as China’s MIT Tech Review. See ChinAI #60 for a deep dive into this source.

5) How do SMEs acquire digital intelligentization solutions? Data to help understand these transactions

Summary: Drawing from research on nearly 1000 small, medium, and micro businesses, Synced’s think tank has published a new report on digital intelligentization in China.

Source: 机器之心 (Synced) — very similar to Qbit and Leiphone, and also has an impressive longform portal (机器之能/jiqizhineng)

6) Li Mu, Liu Qun, Liu Yang, Zhu Jingbo, Zhang Min: Current bottlenecks in machine translation

Summary: Readout from the China Conference on Machine Translation, held Oct 10-12, where there was a forum on current bottlenecks of machine translation, featuring some big names, including Liu Qun — chief scientist of speech semantics at Huawei’s Noah’s Ark Laboratory.

Source: AI科技评论(aitechtalk) — focuses on in-depth reports on developments in the AI industry and academia.

7) Chinese chip projects welcome an “unfinished tide,” six 10-billion-level projects suspended

Summary: Summary of an investigative report by Xinhua's Outlook (Liaowang) Magazine on six major semiconductor projects, which have stalled. Reporters visit semiconductor projects and find empty offices overgrown with weeds.

Source: 瞭望 (Liaowang) Am curious to dig more into this Outlook Magazine report, which is written for elite government officials, and posts unusually candid reports from time to time.

8) When PaddleHub meets WeChat Mini-Programs

Summary: Apparently there’s been some excitement by developers over Baidu’s PaddleHub (an extension of its PaddlePaddle framework). This OSChina contributor tries to use PaddleHub’s poetry writing and art style transfer modules to build a WeChat mini-program.

Source: OSChina — portal that covers China’s open source community

9) Be wary of “Connecting Everything”: The Autistic Symptoms of Facial Recognition Technology

Summary: a somewhat long-winded attack on the intrusiveness of facial recognition by Yu Shengfeng, a law professor at Beihang University. Includes a tenuous comparison between the privacy-corrosive effects of the technology and the symptoms of autism.

Source: 南都公益基金会 (Narada Foundation) — ranks as one of the top five Chinese foundations in terms of charitable activities; this is a longform article published by its Narada Insights platform

10) Breakthrough! Six banks fined more than 40 million RMB for infringing personal information | DataLaws

Summary: On the same day that a draft law on personal information protection was announced, many banks were fined for infringement of the personal information of consumers.

Source: 数据法盟 (Datalaws) — a non-profit academic platform that focuses on data privacy and data security

ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)

Must-read: Thousands of Weibo accounts have been deleted as China’s government cracks down on free speech

Shen Lu’s latest story, for Rest of the World, about how a Chinese government crackdown on speech resulted in the deletion of thousands of accounts on Weibo, the country's last major platform for free expression. Zhahao, or “account bombing,” where pro-nationalists report dissenters and get them censored, have become incredibly frequent. As a result, some users have become more cautious with their conversations, while others have grown used to losing accounts and starting over, or learned where to buy burner accounts (which they quickly run through).

Should-read: What’s Going Wrong with Chinese Literature in Translation

By Dylan Levi King, for RADII, the list of best Chinese fiction rated by users on Douban looks very different from the Chinese literature that makes its way into English translation. "What makes it into English translation is often shaped by the idea that Chinese fiction’s main function is to explain China, and by two sides wrangling over what story Chinese literature should tell," Dylan writes. The bigger issue, as he notes, is that there’s so little Chinese literature that makes it into English at all.

Should-read: Chinese Perspectives on AI and Future Military Capabilities

Late to read this impressive Aug 2020 report by Ryan Fedasiuk. Instead of focusing on high-ranking military leaders’ statements and official PLA policy documents, he analyzes 58 journal articles written from 2016–2020 by officers, defense industry engineers, and academics involved in the day-to-day development and deployment of AI. One interesting key finding is: “Chinese experts tend to overestimate U.S. military AI capabilities, relative to open-source reporting.”

Should-watch: GovAI webinar series featuring Margaret Roberts on Censorship’s Implications for Artificial Intelligence

I’m really excited to be a discussant in this webinar next Wednesday, October 28th. GovAI is hosting Margaret Roberts, a professor at UC San Diego and leading expert on China’s censorship regime. She’ll be presenting work co-authored with Eddie Yang.

The topic: how censorship has affected the development of Wikipedia corpuses, which are in turn regularly used as training data that provide inputs to NLP algorithms. They show that word embeddings trained on the regularly censored Baidu Baike have very different associations between adjectives and a range of concepts about democracy, freedom, collective action, equality, and people and historical events in China than its uncensored counterpart Chinese language Wikipedia. They examine the origins of these discrepancies using surveys from mainland China and their implications by examining their use in downstream AI applications.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).

Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at chinainewsletter@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jjding99

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