back to article I spy, with my little satellite AI, something beginning with 'North American image-analysis code embargo'

The US government has placed software designed to train neural networks to analyse satellite and aerial snaps under new export controls – to prevent foreign adversaries using said code. The decision, made by Uncle Sam's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), is effective today. Vendors shipping software subject to the controls …

  1. Richard Boyce


    It seems to me that any software manufacturer could modify the software it sells faster than the government could modify its restrictions to keep up.

    1. NoneSuch

      Re: Ridiculous

      Locked doors are only respected by the law abiding.

      More 'legislation instead of proper security' from the US Gov.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Ridiculous

      It seems to me that any software manufacturer could simply move out of the country.

      there, FTFY

      1. Graham 32

        Re: Ridiculous

        If privately funded it would be dumb to develop this stuff in the US. The article says the US government has been funding a lot of this research and for those contracts I assume it's a requirement to be in the US.

  2. The_Idiot

    Sounds like...

    ... declaring encryption technology to be a 'munition' and putting similar controls on it. Er - someone remind me. How did _that_ work out? About as well as declaring alcohol illegal, at least as far as I recall.

    1. whitepines Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like...

      Worked just as well as the modern day farce of trying to stop copying of "copy protected" works just because there's DRM attached (i.e. not because it's actually any good).

      This kind of thinking always seems to fan the flames and entrench a mafia type or two somewhere in the process, no? How is that collateral damage better than a more measured approach to stopping the undesired outcome?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Sounds like...

        There is a campaign to demand encryption is classified as a munition going on now.

        It would then guarantee peoples right to it

        Ah the land of the free, where the only way to keep your selfies safe at a traffic shop is to pretend they are a gun

  3. FelixReg

    Must be for one particular system

    The description is oddly specific about the combination of attributes required to be in the software for that software to be export-restricted. On the other hand, each attribute, itself, is general enough to match one-day utility programs anyone might write to process images of any sort.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Aw, bless

    The US believes it is leading in AI.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Aw, bless

      As long as China keeps its code secret and never publish it, they could believe it... you can ask the Chinese government to publish it to show they are ahead, anyway.

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Hasn't that horse bolted?

    As a researcher working on image processing (including remote sensing) I must really wonder what they think this will achieve. The tools I develop for remote sensing aren't fundamentally different from those I work on in astronomical or medical applications, or document processing. After all, AI methods are supposed to be generic. In CNNs the real slog is getting enough high-quality ground-truth data. Thus, an export ban on a trained neural network for an application might just work (not likely), but a ban on the generic code itself is hardly going to help, especially if you can buy it for e.g. document processing. And of course, there isn't an absolute shitload of code for these tasks available elsewhere, for free (<cough> GitHub <cough>).

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

      Re: Hasn't that horse bolted?

      Projects on github may be precisely the target of this.

      Those very specific specs sound like something targeted at a particular product or small set of products. A project backed by a bigco will have lawyers to deal with it. A github project might have no such resources, even if its major contributors do have that for their own supported versions.

      It also sounds like a barrier to entry for innovative startups having any US component. And perhaps an opportunity for bigcos to mop up innovators on the cheap.

  6. DrBobK

    Isn't writing some code to normalise image stats and provide a gui to tag regions of pixels a 10 minute job in Matlab if you know its gui builder and have the image processing toolbox? I did something like this to allow someone to tag regions of a scene and generate a recolored version for eye-movement analysis a few years ago and it was trivial. My understanding is that it is this front end that gets your software classified as a munition or whatever, not using the tagged results in training some network. Absolutely crazy.

  7. mj.jam

    Banning software that allows labelling of images?

    So things like LabelMe from MIT ( could easily fall under this. Basically anybody doing image labelling as part of training will have this sort of capability. All it requires is some work to create the right labels ("Secret military facility", "Launch site", ...) and then the manual work of labelling all the images.

    1. Il'Geller

      Re: Banning software that allows labelling of images?

      Yes, this is my AI technology.

  8. anonanonanon

    Not just satellite imagery

    It's not just satellite imagery, geospatial imagery also covers drone/arial photography, and AI is already being used frequently in solutions we and others provide in this field

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Not just satellite imagery

      Assuming you're not in the US this just reduces your competition when it comes to selling to the rest of the world.

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Not just satellite imagery

      Sure - satellites are a subset of geospatial, so we're not wrong. I've included drones and aerial images in the article.



  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Swiss Anton

    Floppy discs are no longer required.

    Does it count as being exported if the software is running on a server that is in the good o' U S of A, but is being accessed from Iran via a properly encrypted VPN?

    1. anonanonanon

      Re: Floppy discs are no longer required.


      I know this because Apple make you declare your encryption standards in any app you submit app with the specific reason that your app will be uploaded to apple servers in the US and they have to do that to comply, we have to write a little note to some department somewhere too.

  11. An0n C0w4rd

    Who are they fooling?

    The Chinese probably already have a copy of all the tools that Uncle Sam paid countless $ to develop, and probably didn't pay for them. Somone with a Green Card working on the project took a flash drive holding the code with them while visiting their parents over the holidays.

  12. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Remind me again why RISC V upped sticks and relocated outside the US.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge


      FWIW the foundation's move to Switzerland was a marketing exercise to ease the minds of non-US adopters of the ISA. It is still being run out of America.


      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: RISC-V

        If encryption is anything to go by the making the US's export control list is another way of saying "do not develop this type of product in the US".

        Its a nuisance but think of all the civil servants its keeping in a job. Quite the growth industry, I bet.

        BTW -- They've been doing this type of control for at least 40 years. Its really been effective at keeping US technology on top and keeping everyone else down, hasn't it?

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: RISC-V

        AIUI the actual technical contributions to RISC V come from all over the world, just as in this case. Putting it outside the US means that (a) the US doesn't actually have its hands on the |RISC V throat to choke it and (b) everybody outside the US can still contribute assuming their govts. don't try the same trick. The worst case for the foundation is that contributions stop coming from the US. The worst case for the US is the same. The worst case for non-US competitors is "meh".

        Repeat that for anything else the US wants to choke.

        Apropos this particular case, does it supposedly cover QGIS? The registrant for is in SA.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: RISC-V

        "to ease the minds of non-US adopters of the ISA."


  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward Uncle Sam?

    It's not the >99% who own this, or decide to murder foreigners.

    But it is the >99% who pay for it, and share the blame.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Uncle Sam?

      Now see here. The 99% only pay for most of it. We1 pay a (laughably small) portion of our income into the Federal War On Everything fund, too.

      When you live in a fast-failing nation, appearances are important.

      On a more serious and sombre note, I'm afraid a large fraction of that 99% are quite keen on murdering foreigners. You can certainly argue that they're dupes of the wealthy, but that doesn't mean they don't sincerely support the war-mongering and such. I see comments daily from Trumpistas who will swear to their dying breath every move that man2 makes is pure gold.

      1In both the states where my wife and I maintain domiciles, our household income is in the top 1%. It's nowhere close to the national top 1%, of course, or to the top 0.1% in those states; but depending on your definition...

      2Or rather his handlers, but that's not a distinction these folks generally make.

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