Chinese Surveillance Supercomputers Use Chips From America
American companies Intel and Nvidia supply chips for the supercomputers in Urumqi Cloud Computing Center, Xinjiang, China, which provide a high capacity video surveillance application.
In 2016, China opened up the Urumqi Cloud Computing Center in Xinjiang, which is in the west of China. This complex contains supercomputers that provide a very high capacity of surveillance for the citizens of that region. The government claimed that the purpose of this center was to control terrorism activities, provide management to the cities, and look over the environmental factors like pollution, traffic, etc. Now, for this purpose, the heavy-duty surveillance computers that are used in this complex are powered by some of the most powerful chips. These computers are so efficient that they track numerous faces, people, cars, and phones each day. They even judge human behavior based on trends. They can watch surveillance footage in one day that a normal human being watches in one year!
However, one interesting and slightly ironic fact that has surfaced is that these supercomputers use the chips that are provided by Intel and Nvidia, two American companies that provide the semiconductor technology.
We all know that there is a lot of political tension between China and America, which is increasing day by day. The Chinese government has recently imposed some new policies for the exchange and trade of technology and technological apps.
Amidst all this animosity between the two nations, this is sort of strange that China uses supercomputers for the surveillance and repression of its citizens in Xinjiang, and those computers are powered through American technology! Although both Intel and Nvidia plead complete innocence by saying that none of them knew the real intent of the Chinese company Sugon, to whom they sell these chips.
Now, this company Sugon supplies technology and material to several government enforcement agencies and secret services. They also manufacture and supply computers to normal companies also. In this case, Sugon backs up the Urumqi Computing Center and Intel and Nvidia claim that they did not know that their chips will be used by something that would pry into the privacy of the citizens of China. This claim is especially in response to this surveillance application being used by Beijing to track and imprison people from Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. All these activities are construed as an abuse of power and misuse of technology.
Biden’s administration will have to make some quick and firm decisions about the ban on the sale of advanced semiconductors to China
This ban was imposed by Donald Trump’s administration and was one of the results of the increasingly strained relationship between the two nations. Now, Joe Biden will have to deal with this issue, as this ban was imposed in the first place because Trump’s administration raised this matter as a problem and serious threat to national security as well as basic human rights.
However, the intent behind the ban was probably not wrong, but it only affected the semiconductors selling American companies, because China is already spending millions of dollars on creating semiconductors and high-capacity chips itself.
Now, let us wait and see how Joe Biden deals with this matter, and whether he will continue imposing the ban, or loosen it up a bit- nothing can be said for sure.
On the contrary, industry watchers who criticize American technology’s involvement in China’s invasive surveillance system believe that sellers may not be at fault, but they should still exercise a lot of control to track the usage of their technology that can be easily abused by the buyers, like China did, in this case.
However, whether Intel and Nvidia should have been more vigilant about where their tech was going and whether China should do what it is doing, all these arguments are pointless now, as per Jason Matheny, a former US intelligence official. He thinks that both the government and the industry need to be thoughtful and more mindful about the usage of technology. These days, one supercomputer can do real-time surveillance on millions of people simultaneously. The more advanced technology is, the more risks of its misuse arise.
Intel and Nvidia did not break any law
Both the companies sold tech to Sugon before Trump’s orders, so technically they did not break any law. However, Intel has stopped selling semiconductors to Sugon, but both Intel and Nvidia still sell chips to the Chinese company.