ALGORITHMIC EMPOWERMENT OR IMPERIALIST WARFARE? DARK SKIN, AI CAMERA, AND A CHINESE COMPANY’S PATENT STRATEGY
Keywords:Facial recognition, Patent, algorithms, Race, China-Africa
AbstractThrough document analysis and participant observation, this paper examines the patent strategy of Transsion, a Chinese company that dominates Africa’s smartphone market and a leading innovator in facial recognition technologies optimised for darker skins. We identify two major narratives surrounding Transsion’s facial recognition patent strategy. First is the “empowerment” narrative, in which Transsion argues that there are “blind spots” in conventional AI camera technologies and interprets its AI camera as not just a fix to existing blindness but also an empowerment tool for dark-skinned users by “seeing” and capturing their beauty. While the “empowerment” narrative is more externally oriented, Transsion uses a “warfare” narrative to interpret its patent strategy internally. This may have to do with cut-throat market competition, patents race, and the rapid pace of innovation, which gave Transsion a strong sense of crisis. Other major Chinese brands are also entering the African market. Transsion thus considers its facial recognition patents as “competitive weaponry” in preparation for a future clash in Africa’s smartphone market. This study makes three contributions. Empirically, through document analysis and participant observation, we examine a relatively less known Chinese smartphone company that has made huge impact in the Global South. Theoretically, we shed on the possibility of algorithmic empowerment against racist facial recognition systems, although developing AI as a weaponry, in the Chinese-African contexts, may also lead to new forms of imperialism. Thematically, echoing this year’s AoIR conference theme, this study reveals the politics and geopolitics of independence through patents.
How to Cite
Lu, M., & Qiu, J. L. (2021). ALGORITHMIC EMPOWERMENT OR IMPERIALIST WARFARE? DARK SKIN, AI CAMERA, AND A CHINESE COMPANY’S PATENT STRATEGY. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2021. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2021i0.12203