Empowerment or warfare? Dark skin, AI camera, and Transsion’s patent narratives

Miao LU*, Jack Linchuan QIU

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

Abstract

Through document analysis and interviews, this paper examines the patent narratives of Transsion, a Chinese company dominating Africa’s smartphone market and a leading innovator in facial recognition technologies (FRTs) optimized for darker skin tones. We identify two major narratives concerning Transsion’s FRT patenting practice. First is ‘empowerment’, through which Transsion argues that there are ‘blind spots’ in conventional AI technologies and presents its AI camera as a remedy and an empowerment tool for dark-skinned users by ‘seeing’ their beauty. Second is the ‘warfare’ narrative, which is shaped by the heightening market competition and accelerating patent races among Chinese phone makers. As the battle for tech supremacy intensifies in Africa, Transsion expresses a strong sense of crisis and considers its FRT patents as ‘weapons of competition’ in preparation for a future smartphone warfare in Africa. This study makes two contributions. Empirically, through analyzing patents, we examine a relatively less-known Chinese tech company that has tremendous impact in the Global South. Theoretically, we interrogate the possibility of algorithmic empowerment against racist AI and technological independence through patents, although developing AI as weaponry, in the China-Africa context, also hampers the politics of decolonization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)768-784
Number of pages17
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Volume25
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Keywords

  • Africa
  • AI (artificial intelligence)
  • China
  • dark skin
  • facial recognition technologies
  • patent

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