ChinAI Newsletter #10: the company known as China’s Palantir: Mininglamp
Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!
These are Jeff Ding's weekly translations of writings on AI policy and strategy from Chinese thinkers. I'll also include general links to all things at the intersection of China and AI. Please share the subscription link if you think this stuff is cool. Here's an archive of all past issues.
I'm a grad student at the University of Oxford where I'm the China lead for the Governance of AI Program, Future of Humanity Institute.
What is Mininglamp (明略数据) AKA China's Palantir?
This week’s translations zoom in on one particular Chinese AI company you've probably never heard of - if you have, let me know and I'll give you +10 social credit score points.
”Mininglamp has the potential to create China's Palantir with good execution..." Conversation with Joe Lonsdale, one of the early founders of Palantir (I have not been able to verify this quote in any English-language source and only found it on a zhihu thread).
Mininglamp's about section emphasizes its technical talent - of the nearly 400 employees in the data, about 75% are technical elites, and the core team is from top Chinese unis, Tsinghua University and Peking University.
First translation is a long article describing Mininglamp's philosophy as well as Tencent's approach to investing - Tencent was one of the first investors into Mininglamp. That in and of itself is a notable trend as Tencent and Alibaba are transforming Asia’s investment landscape. Mininglamp's founder has some interesting thoughts about the interplay between perceptive and cognitive AI.
Mininglamp's products are already integrated into public security departments and many other spheres
From an article published on CCID.net in 2015, Mininglamp's chairman gave a presentation at the People's Public Security University of China in which he boasted that Mininglamp's tech had helped police departments crack cases related to the production and sales of fake vaccines across more than 20 provinces (this was an article from 2015 so its reach has probably expanded further since then). According to their website, customers include ZTE, China Mobile, China Unicom, CCTV, etc.
Related: two good articles on similar stories of Palantir's reach.
This Week's ChinAI Links
Check out NÜVOICES and their director of over 400 female experts on Greater China. This platform introduced me to some really cool work and people. One I'll highlight is Tricia Wang who is a global tech ethnographer - you can find her work here.
Must-read piece by Rogier Creemers on China's social credit system. When reading Rogier's great article, I was reminded of a passage from another great piece on the social credit system which always sticks with me: "This article wasn’t meant to be about China so much as foreign coverage of China. China’s Social Credit is often used as a way of discussing our own situation from a safe distance. This is, of course, also the role that science fiction like “Black Mirror” and Orwell’s 1984 has traditionally played, so it isn’t surprising to see them invoked here as well. We look at exotified foreign nations or speculative futures in order to reflect on our present, but what we take away from it likely says more about us than about the subject of our examination."
Chinese science fiction functions as a vehicle for imagining tech futures and social critique; I would highly recommend Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang (English translation by Ken Liu), a short story that examines how automation and tech advances could turn the city on itself.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jjding99