MIT has ended its partnership with Chinese AI firm iFlyTek

April 23rd

MIT has cut short a five-year partnership with iFlyTek, a Chinese AI company that agreed to invest in and collaborate on a handful of the university’s AI research projects. The two began working together in 2018.

MIT has not said why it ended its relationship with iFlyTek, though Wired reports that the decision came after an internal review of the company’s alleged involvement in China’s mass surveillance network.

iFlyTek, better known for its speech recognition and natural language processing tools, also works in computer vision, an AI discipline that’s used heavily in video surveillance. According to an MIT press release announcing their partnership in 2018, iFlyTek and MIT researchers planned to work on “human-computer interaction and creating interfaces to be used in health care applications,” as well as speech recognition, and “more human-like AI.”

iFlyTek, like several other prominent Chinese AI firms, was blacklisted by the US government in October, 2019 for its supposed involvement in China’s surveillance program in Xinjiang province, where Chinese authorities have detained millions of Uyghur Muslims in reeducation camps.

After the October blacklist, MIT announced that it was reviewing another collaboration with a Chinese firm, SenseTime. It also has a working relationship with Megvii, another AI firm. Both were among the companies blacklisted by the US, though there is no news that their partnerships have been terminated.