ChinAI #63: Who is Ultrapower? Introducing ChinAI Company Profiles
Plus, Leiphone's 2018 and 2019 Best AI Growth Company Rankings
Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!
These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, PhD candidate in International Relations, Researcher at GovAI/Future of Humanity Institute, and Research Fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
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In the course of walking through Leiphone’s S&T media empire in a recent issue of ChinAI, I came across a cool ranking called the “AI Best Growth Companies List.” In 2018 and 2019 they awarded three types of best growth awards across ten fields: 1) Product Growth Award, 2) Commercial Growth Award, 3) Future Growth Award. *Note: in 2019 they added the two domains of edge computing and smart cities, and a fourth award called “Best Fortified Growth” (最佳壁垒成长奖). I compiled the two years of award winners into the table below, which gives a cross-section of the rising AI companies in China. The full Google doc translation (also always linked in the section heading) outlines the selection process, criteria, and I make some notes on particularly interesting companies. How many of these companies do you recognize?
Call for Action: I’ve listed all of the above companies along with the unicorns from last week’s issue in this editable Google spreadsheet (anyone with this link can edit so I’m trusting that our readership has no trolls). I’d like to crowdsource help from the ChinAI community in filling out interesting info about each of these companies. You can also add variables of interest as extra columns. Another way you can contribute is to find/help translate good articles on these companies. One of the goals is to have at least one ChinAI issue that features/discusses each company (currently we’ve covered 8 of them so far, including the following translation on Ultrapower (神州泰岳), which won the AI Best Future Growth Award in the AI + Application Platform vertical in both years.
Last time I floated out a call like this, Karson Elmgren stepped up to the plate, and his work was featured in this MIT Tech Review article by Karen Hao. He’s now doing cool stuff at OpenAI. Excited to see who emerges this time.
This article, also from Leiphone, looks at the 20+ year history of Ultrapower. Founded in 1998!, Ultrapower Software (神州泰岳) rose to fame as the sole software provider for Fetion (飞信), China Mobile’s instant messaging client, which the OGs will recall. Fetion had many challenges — including the rise of this app that you may have heard of (WeChat) — but Ultrapower seems to have pivoted successfully to AI, specifically in the subfield of natural language processing. Some key details:
1) Has open-sourced bunch of Chinese NLP resources, including evaluation datasets and methods
2) Products include a Ruida Control SaaS platform (a financial risk control system for financial institutions), a Taiyue semantic factory to support the internal NLP technical capabilities of companies
3) “AI business is particularly eye-catching in the public security industry”: article lists 6 cases of strategic cooperation between Ultrapower and divisions of public security bureaus at the province and city levels, including efforts to combat “Internet Crimes” in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and provision of “intelligent reference points” for public security research in Sichuan Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Most coverage has focused on AI-enabled surveillance in Xinjiang (and rightly so), but it’s important to remember that China has 4 other autonomous regions/30 autonomous prefectures (where Ultrapower is doing its business).
4) A lot of Ultrapower’s core business is still in its traditional ICT operations management — this is the not-sexy but super important stuff like making sure everyone’s in your business is up-to-date on hardware and software changes. They’re supposedly making the leap in this field from automation to intelligentization.
Full translation includes some tidbits from a brief scan of other articles featuring Ultrapower — FULL TRANSLATION: Ultrapower ChinAI Company Profile
ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)
This week’s must-read is Larissa Schiavo’s piece on “Lessons in Technological Worker Displacement” which examines the effects of two significant innovations (the power loom and the threshing machine) on laborers in Victorian Era England — with an eye toward parallels to present-day labor-displacing AI technologies. While her piece is really good on technological displacement (underwork), I also want to highlight how these automation-related advances may also lead to overwork — for example, consider the “sweating” system (sweatshops) - labor exploitation (long hours, low wages, unsafe conditions) that emerged in the mass production methods pioneered by the industrial revolution. Raphael Samuel discusses “sweating” in giving the view form labor on the “heroic age of invention.” This reminds me of this recent NYT piece by Cade Metz on the labor-intensive processes that go into labeling data for AI algorithms as well as ChinAI #41 on the data labeling industry in China.
Very cool special issue of Journal of Strategic Studies on emerging technologies and strategic stability, featuring my GovAI colleagues Ben Garfinkel and Allan Dafoe’s really nifty piece, “How does the offense-defense balance scale,” which examines scaling effects (how increases in investments will favor the offense at low levels and favor the defense at high levels) on security implications of AI applications. Are there any services out there that translate academic international relations papers like this collection into digestible bite-sized summaries/takeaways? Would love to get looped into any related projects.
I want to plug a few great reports authored by John VerWey at the U.S. International Trade Commission: a report on the past and present of Chinese Semiconductor Industrial Policy as well as one on the industry’s prospects for future success, and finally one on the potential impacts of Made in China 2025 on the chip industries in the US/EU/Japan (with Dan Kim)
Incredible NYT longform journalism by Amanda Taub and Max Fisher on how Youtube radicalized Brazil — contextualizes well-known effects (e.g. ecochambers) as well as less-discussed ones (e.g. how videos pumping conspiracy theories were recommended to viewers watching videos about right-wing politicians). I’ve started subscribing to Matt Stoller’s “Big” newsletter on the politics of monopoly, and his backstory on this article is worth a read. As I’ve pointed out in previous issues, I’m worried that newsletters can also function as echo chambers, and I’m still exploring ways to ensure more voices are featured in the curating process of ChinAI.
Thank you for reading and engaging.
Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jjding99