Beijing is bringing AI judges to court. The move, proclaimed by China as “the first of its kind in the world”, comes from the Beijing Internet Court, which has launched an online litigation service center featuring an artificially intelligent female judge, with a body, facial expressions, voice, and actions all modeled off a living, breathing human (one of the court’s actual female judges, to be exact). 

It’s actually not the first time China has unveiled computerized professionals — last year, State news agency Xinhua’s first English-speaking virtual anchor caused quite a stir among netizens (though that might have more to do with his strangely-constructed mouth movements or how he called Alibaba chairman Jack Ma “Jack Massachusetts”.)


Xinhua Unveils First English-Speaking Virtual News Anchor

But conspiracy theorists can breathe a sigh of relief — the AI apocalypse is not nigh (yet). This virtual judge, whose abilities are based on intelligent speech and image synthesizing technologies, is to be used for the completion of “repetitive basic work” only, according to the Beijing Internet Court’s official statement on the move. That means she’ll mostly be dealing with litigation reception and online guidance. Other features of the online service center include a mobile micro-court and an official Weitao (Taobao’s social-media service for brands) account.

Rather than replacing human-populated courts, Beijing’s Internet Court’s stated mission is to use new technology to provide more effective, more widely-reaching public services. According to court president Zhang Wen, integrating AI and cloud computing with the litigation service system will allow the public to better reap the benefits of technological innovation in China. 


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AI assistance has already been employed in Chinese courts since early 2019, although involvement has typically only included the presentation of case-related evidence and research aid.

For the first time in China, #AI assistive technology was used in a trial at Shanghai No 2 Intermediate People’s Court on Wed, the Legal Daily reported. When the judge, public prosecutor or defender asked the AI system, it displayed all related evidence on a courtroom screen.

— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) January 25, 2019

Indeed, human-machine collaboration lies at the heart of a number of currently unfolding Chinese public-works projects. “Robots” and other forms of AI are being used in China for a wide range of menial tasks, from sorting ecommerce parcels to performing maintenance on bullet trains. 

Cover image: Stock photo (not the AI judge in question) 


Twitter has caught itself in a propaganda war after it was found running ads from China’s state-backed media outlet Xinhua News attacking Hong Kong protesters.

The promoted tweets (aka ads) — which were captured on social bookmarking site Pinboard — delve into how the escalating violence in the territory has “taken a heavy toll on social order,” while some others were about Hong Kong citizens allegedly calling China is “our motherland.”

Xinhua News has also been running multiple ads on Facebook related to the unrest in Hong Kong — all starting August 18 or after — targeting countries like the US, China, India, and Mexico.

The recent wave of anti-government protests in Hong Kong were triggered by a bill (since suspended) that would allow people accused of crimes against mainland China to be extradited.

Every day I go out and see stuff with my own eyes, and then I go to report it on Twitter and see promoted tweets saying the opposite of what I saw. Twitter is taking money from Chinese propaganda outfits and running these promoted tweets against the top Hong Kong protest hashtags

— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 17, 2019

While the former British colony enjoys a special status that grants people rights and freedom not seen in the mainland, the move has attracted criticism because of potential concerns that China is tightening its grip over the region.

In addition to undermining Hong Kong‘s judicial independence, the proposal could also be used to target civilians who speak out against the Chinese government.

But it’s been long established that China likes to keep a close watch on social networks, homegrown and elsewhere, in an attempt to stifle dissent. The New York Times reported earlier this year that the country has been cracking down on people who post criticism of the government on Twitter, even though the service is officially blocked inside its border.

In June, Twitter apologized after it suspended hundreds of accounts that were critical of the Chinese government days before of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The company said that the accounts “were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities.”

CCTV has yet to show a shot of the anti-police-violence march today. Instead it’s all five-star flags, calls for peace and misleading quotes about HK breaking away from China. Stuff just about everyone in China can get behind. Best quote: “I love China, I love HK.” Controversial!

— Paul Mozur (@paulmozur) August 18, 2019

China’s efforts to shape political conversations on platforms regardless of its presence in the mainland became evident after it was found to be the second-largest country for Facebook ad revenue after the US.

While one can understand that Twitter relies on advertising for revenues, profiting from disinformation by sending out anti-Hong Kong protest messages sets a wrong precedent.

For social media services like Facebook and Twitter — which have come under scrutiny for their outsized influence on worldwide election processes — showing propaganda-disguised-as-ads further risks eroding trust among people, especially when it’s trying its best to establish as the go-to place for news.

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