The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rethinking its relationship with Chinese artificial intelligence firm Sensetime after the US government put the company and several of its counterparts on a trade blacklist over human right violations, Bloomberg reported.

Why it matters: Sensetime, the most valuable AI company in the world, was put on the US Entity List, effectively banning it from doing business with American firms.

  • High-profile AI companies Yitu and Megvii and surveillance camera manufacturers Hikvision and Dahua were also placed on the blacklist.
  • US officials said the ban was as a result of the companies’ complicity in human rights violations in western China’s Xinjiang province, home to a large population of Chinese Muslims.

“MIT has long had a robust export controls function that pays careful attention to export control regulations and compliance. MIT will review all existing relationships with organizations added to the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List, and modify any interactions, as necessary.”

—MIT in an email to Bloomberg

Details: Sensetime said shortly after being blacklisted that it was “deeply disappointed” with the decision and that it complies with regulations in the countries in which it operates.

  • Sensetime wouldn’t be the first Chinese company with which MIT has cut ties. After the Trump administration targeted telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE, the school cut ties with the companies, adding that it had put in place new standards for projects that involved China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
  • MIT said last year that Sensetime would become the first company to join a newly minted MIT Intelligence Quest initiative, which aimed to advance research into human and machine intelligence.

Bottom line: Sensetime has been pushing to create a globalized business, opening offices or research centers in countries including Japan, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. A trade ban could severely tarnish the company’s reputation, and limit its ability to forge partnerships and recruit new talent.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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