MIT is reviewing research relationship with SenseTime following US blacklist


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told Bloomberg that it will review its research relationship with SenseTime, a leading Chinese AI startup, after the company was blacklisted by the US government two weeks ago.

MIT and SenseTime announced their partnership in early 2018 and said that SenseTime would be the first company to join MIT's ambitious Quest for Intelligence initiative.

They described their relationship as an effort to "open up new avenues of discovery across MIT in areas such as computer vision, human-intelligence-inspired algorithms, medical imaging, and robotics."

Later that year, MIT announced that the two would fund 27 projects across the school's five departments. It wasn't clear how SenseTime would be involved, or to what extent they would fund the projects.

SenseTime's co-founder, Xiaoโ€™ou Tang, is an MIT graduate.

The announcement is the latest in a series of controversies revolving around MIT's outside partnerships, which included Huawei and ZTE before they were targeted by the US government.

According to Bloomberg, MIT is an investor in Megvii, another recently-blacklisted company.



October 16th

SenseTime is interesting for many reasons:

SenseTime specializes in facial- and pattern-recognition in images, video and audio, and works closely with the Chinese government, as well as MIT, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and others.

Founded in 2014, Sensetime first received attention for their DeepID algorithm, which was the first facial recognition tool that recognized faces more accurately than the human eye.

SenseTime went on to be named one of China's five "national champions" of AI in 2018, alongside Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, and iFlyTek, which earmarks it for special treatment, government contracts and potentially longterm investment.

Since its founding, SenseTime has raised over $2.6 billion from Alibaba, Qualcomm, Softbank and others.

More recently, the company has been accused of helping Chinese authorities monitor and track Uighur muslims. Critics, inlcuding the US government, say that SenseTime's software is used in China's mass surveillance program in areas like Xinjiang, where authorities deploy a vast surveillance network to monitor and track citizens.

In October, the US put SenseTime on its Entity List, which prevents it from buying or using any technology or product that contains US-made components.

While Sensetime denies that its technology is being used to discriminate against citizens, it does have verified clients among China's police departments, which use its technology in security cameras to find and track suspects. SenseTime previously owned a 51% stake in a join-venture in Xinjiang, but it sold its ownership in early 2019.