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Artificial intelligence

Chinese start-up offers AI to help internet firms screen out banned explicit online content

Tuputech says its filtering of online images can help firms get rid of violent or pornographic content and avoid slaps on the wrist from regulators

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 2:57pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 10:52pm

A Chinese start-up is aiming to help the country’s internet companies with one of their most pressing problems – pornographic, violent or other explicit content that finds its way onto their platforms and earns them hefty slaps on the wrists from regulators.

Tuputech, founded three years ago and based in the southern city of Guangzhou, offers filtering of online images using deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

“By providing real-time image recognition for social media, live broadcasting and video and photo-sharing sites … we can help companies to identify, tag and filter objectionable images – pornographic, violent or otherwise explicit or inappropriate,” said Li Mingqiang, the founder of Tuputech and a former employee of internet giant Tencent.

“Our technology acts fast to detect inappropriate content and to help our clients remove it before it enters the online environment,” he said in a telephone interview.

He said the company is handling 900 million images a day and has reviewed over 100 billion up to October this year, and is introducing its cloud-based image recognition solution to Chinese firms operating in the US market.

The company, which has attracted US$10 million in funding, is another example of China’s push into AI. In July, the government laid out goals to build a domestic AI industry worth nearly US$150 billion in the next few years, and to make the country an “innovation centre for AI” by 2030.

“China has emerged as a major global contender in using AI to drive economic progress. Both the government and industry have identified AI and machine learning as the next big areas of innovation,” said a report from Goldman Sachs analysts led by Piyush Mubayi.

“We expect further national policy and funding support on AI to follow.”

Tuputech’s clients include Inke, a live-streaming firm, and Meipai, a video streaming app, as well as Musical.ly, Live.me, China Mobile Communications, Thunder, China Unicom and Viva Video.

With high demand for information filtering globally, Li said Tuputech is profitable, but declined to disclose its earnings.

Chinese authorities have come down hard on internet firms over explicit content, as part of a general crack down on cyberspace. Last month regulators imposed hefty fines on online giants Baidu and Tencent as well as on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, for failing to adequately police their platforms and for allowing banned content, including pornographic material and content that incited ethnic hatred.

The authorities did not reveal the fine amounts, but under cybersecurity rules, the maximum fine could be up to 500,000 yuan (US$76,000). Even then, the amount is minuscule compared with the multibillion-dollar revenue of each of the three technology giants.

In May the country’s internet regulator updated its rules on internet and social media news, requiring all online news broadcasters to obtain government licences, and at the start of this year the government launched a 14-month nationwide campaign against unauthorised internet connections, including virtual private network (VPN) services, which allow users to bypass the country’s infamous “Great Firewall”. The crackdown aimed to “strengthen cyberspace information security management”, the government said at the time.