Huawei unveils smartphone operating system HarmonyOS
Chinese tech giant Huawei has announced it is rolling out an update of its operating system HarmonyOS, which will now be installed on smartphones and other smart devices.
The operating system, which was previously available in some smart TVs, will be made available in devices for the Asia market and is seen as a replacement for Google’s Android OS – the market leader included in more than 85% of handsets.
Sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump in 2020 have prevented Huawei products, including smartphones, from working properly with Android platform, leading to limited functionality – such as lack of access to Gmail.
The focus for the update for HarmonyOS was not on smartphones though, but Harmony’s use in other connected devices such as tablets, smart speakers and TVs, suggesting the Chinese tech giant is eyeing the IoT market. Huawei will be hoping that Chinese customers especially embrace HarmonyOS as the link between digital ecosystems of connected products.
Huawei smartphone sales hit hard in 2020
The US trade ban and concerns regarding Huawei’s involvement in 5G infrastructure in numerous countries, who have cited concerns that the company has links to the Chinese government, have hit Huawei hard. Revenue in Q1 2021 fell 16.5% year-on-year – equivalent to around US$23.5 billion.
Huawei began 2020 as the world’s leading seller of smartphones, shipping 55.8 million devices in Q2, surpassing Samsung for the first time, according to Canalys Research but slipped to sixth place by the end of the year, shipping 32 million devices. However, that figure includes sales of the Honor smartphone brand which Huawei sold in November 2020.
Huawei did not announce a new smartphones at the launch event but did unveil the MatePad Pro tablet and Huawei Watch 3.
Chinese Firm Taigusys Launches Emotion-Recognition System
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’.