Tech

Intel and Nvidia chips power China’s surveillance system

Urumqi, China — At the end of a desolate road bordered by prisons, deep in complex bristles with cameras, American technology powers one of the most invasive parts of China’s surveillance nation. ..

Computers in the complex, known as Urumqi Cloud Computing Center, are one of the most powerful in the world. They can see more surveillance footage in a day than one person can see in a year. They look for faces and patterns of human behavior. They track the car. They monitor the phone.

The Chinese government is using these computers to monitor the countless people in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of western China, where Beijing has unleashed a campaign of surveillance and repression in the name of the fight against terrorism.

Chips manufactured by US semiconductor companies Intel and Nvidia have been powering the complex since its inception in 2016. By 2019, Beijing’s new US-made chip, which is mostly a Muslim minority in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, helped the complex join the list of the fastest supercomputers in the world. Both Intel and Nvidia say they were unaware of what was called a misuse of their technology.

Powerful American technology and its potential misuse have cut into the heart of the decisions that the Biden administration must face when tackling increasingly tough national relations with China. Last year, the Trump administration banned the sale of advanced semiconductors and other technologies to Chinese companies involved in national security and human rights issues. An important early question for Mr. Biden is whether to tighten, loosen or rethink these restrictions.

Some in the tech industry claim that the ban has gone too far, blocking the valuable sale of American products with many harmless uses and spurring China to create its own advanced semiconductors. I am. In fact, China is spending billions of dollars on developing high-end chips.

In contrast, critics of the use of American technology in oppressive systems say buyers abuse workarounds and industry and authorities need to track sales and use more closely.

Companies often point out that they have little say about where their products end up. For example, chips from the Urumqi complex were sold by Intel and Nvidia to Sugon, a Chinese company that supports the center. Sugon is an important supplier to China’s military and security forces, but also manufactures computers for the general public.

Jason Massenny, founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technologies and a former US intelligence agent, said the argument was no longer sufficient.

“Government and industry need to be more thoughtful now that technology has advanced and one supercomputer can be used to monitor millions of people in real time,” he said. ..

There is no evidence that the sale of Nvidia or Intel chips prior to Trump’s orders violated the law. Intel said it no longer sells semiconductors for supercomputers to Sugon. Still, both continue to sell chips to Chinese companies.

The existence of the Urumqi complex and the use of US chips were not secret, and there was no shortage of clues that Beijing was using it for surveillance in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Since 2015, when the complex began development, state media and Sugon have been proud of their police ties.

Nvidia advertised the features of the Urumqi complex in a five-year-old marketing document distributed in China, and was proud that the “mass video surveillance application” there had gained customer satisfaction.

Nvidia mentions older versions of its products, and video surveillance discusses “smart cities,” an effort in China to use technology to solve urban problems such as pollution, traffic, and crime. Said that it is a normal part of. A Nvidia spokesman said there was no reason to believe that the company’s products were used “for improper purposes.”

A spokeswoman added that Sugon was “not a key customer of Nvidia” since the ban last year. He also said Nvidia hasn’t provided technical assistance to Sugon since then.

An Intel spokesman who still sells Sugon low-end chips said he would limit or suspend transactions with customers who were found to have used their products to violate human rights.

The promotion of Intel’s business in China seems to have influenced the company. Last year, a business unit drafted ethical guidelines for AI applications for the technology, according to three people familiar with the issue that Intel asked not to name because it hadn’t published the guidelines.

The complex was originally intended to track license plates and manage other smart city tasks, but the system was ineffective and was switched to other uses, Sugon said in a statement. However, recently in September, official media from the Chinese government described the complex as a center for processing video and images to manage the city.

Advances in technology have given authorities around the world substantial power to monitor and classify people. In China, leaders are pushing technology to the extreme. Artificial intelligence and genetic testing are used to screen people to see if they are Uighurs, one of the minority groups in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Chinese companies and authorities claim that their system can detect religious extremism or opposition to the Communist Party.

Urumqi Cloud Computing Center (also known as Xinjiang Super Computing Center) was ranked No. 221 on the list of the fastest computers in the world in 2018. In November 2019, a new chip pushed the computer to No. 135.

According to experts, there are two data centers next to each other operated by Chinese security forces, which could reduce lag time. There are also 6 prisons and a re-education center nearby.

When a New York Times reporter tried to visit the center in 2019, he was followed by a plainclothes police officer. The guards turned him away.

Official Chinese media and a previous statement by Sugon describe the complex as a surveillance center, among other uses. In August 2017, local officials said the center could support a Chinese police surveillance project called Sharp Eyes, searching 100 million photos per second. By 2018, the company’s computer was able to use artificial intelligence to connect to 10,000 video feeds and analyze 1,000 at the same time, according to company disclosure.

“With the help of cloud computing, big data, deep learning and other technologies, intelligent video analytics engines bring police data and applications from video footage, Wi-Fi hotspots, checkpoint information, facial recognition analytics. Integrating, Mr. Sugon said in a 2018 article posted on the official social media account, “Various divisions within the Chinese police.”

That year, when a local Communist leader visited the complex, the computer “upgraded thinking from follow-up to predictive policing,” he wrote on the website.

In Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, predictive policing often acts as an abbreviation for preemptive arrests for actions that are considered dishonest or threatening to the parties. According to Uighur testimony and official Chinese policy documents, this is a sign of Muslim devotion, links to families living abroad, owning two phones, or not owning a phone. May be included.

Former Google engineer and founder of advocacy Tech Inquiry, Jack Poulson says technology helps classify vast amounts of data that humans can’t handle.

“If anything is approaching surveillance, the main limitation is the ability to identify the event of interest in the feed,” he said. “The way to scale up surveillance is through machine learning and large-scale AI.”

The Urumqi complex was developed before reports of abuse in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region spread. By 2019, governments around the world were protesting China’s actions in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. That year, Sugon computers entered the international supercomputing rankings using the Intel Xeon Gold 5118 processor and the Nvidia Tesla V100’s advanced artificial intelligence chips.

It is not clear how Sugon will get or will get a chip that is strong enough to keep the Urumqi complex on its list. However, less techniques commonly used to perform harmless tasks can also be used for monitoring and suppression. Customers can also use chips manufactured by resellers in other countries and American companies abroad.

Last year, police in two counties in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Haya and Qitai, purchased a surveillance system running on a low-level Intel chip, according to government procurement documents. According to the document, in April the Kizil Skillis Autonomous Oblast Department of Public Security was blacklisted by the Trump Cabinet last year for its involvement in surveillance, but a computing platform that uses servers running less powerful Intel chips. I bought it.

Maya Wang, a Chinese researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the world is currently retreating as China relies on American chips.

“I’m worried that in the next few years, Chinese companies and governments will find their own way to develop chips and these features,” Wang said. “Then there is no way to deal with trying to stop these abuses.”

Paul Mozur reported from Urumqi, China, and Don Clark from San Francisco.

Intel and Nvidia chips power China’s surveillance system

Source link Intel and Nvidia chips power China’s surveillance system

Back to top button