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How China outsells everyone on facial recognition surveillance

How China outsells everyone on facial recognition surveillance

Global manufacturers, consultants and researchers in the facial recognition industry looking to profit from AI surveillance algorithms have a new resource.

Although a new analysis by iconic U.S. government think tank the Brookings Institution is meant more as a warning about growing autocratic hunger for biometric surveillance, it also shows how China has scooped up more import deals than anyone.

In fact, the report concludes that global trade regulation is urgently required to avoid handing autocratic governments the most powerful technological tool to date capable of cost-efficiently repressing popular participation so they can stay in power.

China trades AI surveillance goods with developed economies, including the United States. But it has specialized in selling to autocratic and weak democratic governments.

There few growth categories in the mid-depth report in which China does not dominate every other nation in facial recognition surveillance, according to Brookings’ data.

The United States is in a competitive second place in all the same categories.

China paired with 83 facial recognition surveillance trading partners from 2008 to 2021. The U.S. has 48. And China’s total number of trade deals is 10 percent greater than the U.S.’s.

And all of the advantages that China has in the market are here to stay.

Leaders of the developed economies tend to trade the technology among themselves and predominately pro-democratic nations, limiting their markets. (The U.S. is among those that deviate here. Its leaders sell tools to some weak democracies.)

And the developed economies do not have command economies, which makes it harder to force an industry into global dominance.

Beijing’s autocratic rule is stable, and its leaders are in lock step about using facial recognition to monitor their citizens’ every move with cameras and algorithms. They are continuing to nurture a domestic AI industry in general as an existential exercise.

Exporting the technology to basically anyone is just as important. China is not merely happy to trade with despotic regimes, for all intents and purposes, it sends government and business versions of missionaries to them, spreading the word of facial recognition as a tool for social control.

Resulting imports by China’s despotic customers often stimulate domestic innovation that is used in the country and exported.

And, critically, autocrats are most anxious to buy the systems during periods of political unrest.

Autocracies and weak democracies experiencing unrest in a given year, according to the report, had “significantly higher” imports of Chinese made AI surveillance. There were no instances of import jumps in the two years before or after the troubles.

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