May 20, 2020

Baidu’s super app mini-programs score 100mn monthly users in just two months

WeChat
Baidu
Tencent
Super app
2 min
Baidu’s super app mini-programs score 100mn monthly users in just two months
Baidu, China’s most successful search engine and AI company, has announced that user figures for its super app’s new mini-programs have reached 100mn actively monthly users
 
The app utilises mini-programs in much the same way as Tencent’s ubiquitous WeChat, offering consumers sub-applications within one catch-all platform.
 
This expansion of its platform benefits users by removing the need to download and use multiple apps to carry out daily tasks, such as messaging, playing games, shopping on ecommerce sites, making payments, and much more.
 
Tencent has demonstrated the incredible scope of mini-programs with WeChat, offering over 1mn services on its wildly successful platform.
 
This boom in availability has been instigated by Tencent opening development of mini-platforms for WeChat to outside developers.
 
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According to South China Morning Post, Tencent offers such developers 30-50% of ad revenue generated by their mini-programs.
 
Pacific Epoch’s Raymond Feng commented on Baidu’s attempt to mimic this success as being emblematic of the firm’s maturity as a digital services provider.
 
“That is why Baidu has been investing in content generation and multiple platforms to retain users.”
 
He added that Baidu’s efforts to build an effective ecosystem would be “a long-term battle”.
 
SCMP said that Baidu’s app has reached 148mn daily active users, a rise of “17 per cent from same period last year”.

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Jun 17, 2021

Chinese Firm Taigusys Launches Emotion-Recognition System

Taigusys
China
huawei
AI
3 min
Critics claim that new AI emotion-recognition platforms like Taigusys could infringe on Chinese citizens’ rights ─ Taigusys disagrees

In a detailed investigative report, the Guardian reported that Chinese tech company Taigusys can now monitor facial expressions. The company claims that it can track fake smiles, chart genuine emotions, and help police curtail security threats. ‘Ordinary people here in China aren’t happy about this technology, but they have no choice. If the police say there have to be cameras in a community, people will just have to live with it’, said Chen Wei, company founder and chairman. ‘There’s always that demand, and we’re here to fulfil it’. 

 

Who Will Use the Data? 

As of right now, the emotion-recognition market is supposed to be worth US$36bn by 2023—which hints at rapid global adoption. Taigusys counts Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and PetroChina among its 36 clients, but none of them has yet revealed if they’ve purchased the new AI. In addition, Taigusys will likely implement the technology in Chinese prisons, schools, and nursing homes.

 

It’s not likely that emotion-recognition AI will stay within the realm of private enterprise. President Xi Jinping has promoted ‘positive energy’ among citizens and intimated that negative expressions are no good for a healthy society. If the Chinese central government continues to gain control over private companies’ tech data, national officials could use emotional data for ideological purposes—and target ‘unhappy’ or ‘suspicious’ citizens. 

 

How Does It Work? 

Taigusys’s AI will track facial muscle movements, body motions, and other biometric data to infer how a person is feeling, collecting massive amounts of personal data for machine learning purposes. If an individual displays too much negative emotion, the platform can recommend him or her for what’s termed ‘emotional support’—and what may end up being much worse. 

 

Can We Really Detect Human Emotions? 

This is still up for debate, but many critics say no. Psychologists still debate whether human emotions can be separated into basic emotions such as fear, joy, and surprise across cultures or whether something more complex is at stake. Many claim that AI emotion-reading technology is not only unethical but inaccurate since facial expressions don’t necessarily indicate someone’s true emotional state. 

 

In addition, Taigusys’s facial tracking system could promote racial bias. One of the company’s systems classes faces as ‘yellow, white, or black’; another distinguishes between Uyghur and Han Chinese; and sometimes, the technology picks up certain ethnic features better than others. 

 

Is China the Only One? 

Not a chance. Other countries have also tried to decode and use emotions. In 2007, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a heavily contested training programme (SPOT) that taught airport personnel to monitor passengers for signs of stress, deception, and fear. But China as a nation rarely discusses bias, and as a result, its AI-based discrimination could be more dangerous. 

 

‘That Chinese conceptions of race are going to be built into technology and exported to other parts of the world is troubling, particularly since there isn’t the kind of critical discourse [about racism and ethnicity in China] that we’re having in the United States’, said Shazeda Ahmed, an AI researcher at New York University (NYU)

 

Taigusys’s founder points out, on the other hand, that its system can help prevent tragic violence, citing a 2020 stabbing of 41 people in Guangxi Province. Yet top academics remain unconvinced. As Sandra Wachter, associate professor and senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, said: ‘[If this continues], we will see a clash with fundamental human rights, such as free expression and the right to privacy’. 

 

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