For all the promise it holds for the future, artificial intelligence is still guilty of historic bias. Voice recognition software struggles with English accents that are not American or British and facial recognition can be guilty of racial profiling.

As this technology increasingly outpaces human discourse on race, China seems to be getting ahead on recognizing a diverse range of faces across the wider world, despite its own struggles with racial insensitivity. Facial recognition in particular has trouble differentiating faces that are not white, according to a study by MIT’s Media Lab.

While tech companies grapple with how to teach machines about race, their Chinese competitors are turning to Africa to speed up their algorithms’ diversity training. In March, the Zimbabwean government signed a strategic partnership with the Gunagzhou-based startup CloudWalk Technology to begin a large-scale facial recognition program throughout the country.

The agreement, backed by the Chinese government’s Belt and Road initiative, will see the technology primarily used in security and law enforcement and will likely be expanded to other public programs. “The Zimbabwean government did not come to Guangzhou purely for AI or facial ID technology, rather it had a comprehensive package plan for such areas as infrastructure, technology and biology,” CloudWalk CEO Yao Zhiqiang told China’s Global Times. “I watched with envy as Chinese people were able to pay for meals with their lovely faces,” said Shingi Magada, a Zimbabwean consultant on the partnership, told Global Times.

“So I can’t wait until this comes to the beautiful people of Zimbabwe.” Zimbabwe may be giving away valuable data as Chinese AI technologists stand to benefit from access to a database of millions of Zimbabwean faces Harare will share with CloudWalk. “The differences between technologies tailored to an Asian face and those to a black one are relatively large, not only in terms of color, but also facial bones and features,” Yao said. Read more from…

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