The Mercury News

How to counter China's alarming use of AI data

- By Paul Scharre Paul Scharre is vice president and director of studies at the Center for a New American Security. He is author of the forthcomin­g book “Four Battlegrou­nds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligen­ce.” ©2023 Los Angeles Times. Distribute­d

Nowhere is the competitio­n in developing artificial intelligen­ce fiercer than in the accelerati­ng rivalry between the United States and China. At stake in this competitio­n is not just who leads in AI but who sets the rules for how it is used around the world.

China is forging a new model of digital authoritar­ianism at home and is actively exporting it abroad.

It has launched a national-level AI developmen­t plan with the intent to be the global leader by 2030. And it is spending billions on AI deployment, training more AI scientists and aggressive­ly courting experts from Silicon Valley.

The United States and other democracie­s must counter this rising tide of techno-authoritar­ianism by presenting an alternativ­e vision for how AI should be used that is consistent with democratic values. But China's authoritar­ian government has an advantage.

It can move faster than democratic government­s in establishi­ng rules for AI governance, since it can simply dictate which uses are allowed or banned.

One risk is that China's model for AI use will be adopted in other countries while democracie­s are still developing an approach more protective of human rights.

The Chinese Communist Party, for example, is integratin­g AI into surveillan­ce cameras, security checkpoint­s and police cloud computing centers.

As it does so, it can rely on world-class technology companies that work closely with the government. Lin Ji, vice president of iFlytek, one of China's AI “national team” companies, told me that 50% of its $1 billion in annual revenue came from the Chinese government.

China is building a burgeoning panopticon, with more than 500 million surveillan­ce cameras deployed nationwide by 2021 — accounting for more than half of the world's surveillan­ce cameras. Even more significan­t than government cash buoying the AI industry is the data collected, which AI companies can use to further train and refine their algorithms.

Facial recognitio­n is being widely deployed in China, while a grassroots backlash in the U.S. has slowed deployment. Several U.S. cities and states have banned facial recognitio­n for use by law enforcemen­t.

In 2020, Amazon and Microsoft placed a moratorium on selling facialreco­gnition technology to law enforcemen­t, and IBM canceled its work in the field. These national difference­s are likely to give Chinese firms a major edge in developmen­t of facial-recognitio­n technology.

The problem is not just that AI is being used for human rights abuses but that it can supercharg­e repression itself, arming the state with vast intelligen­t surveillan­ce networks to monitor and control the population at a scale and degree of precision that would be impossible with human agents.

In the face of these AI threats, democratic government­s and societies need to work to establish global norms for lawful, appropriat­e and ethical uses of technologi­es like facial recognitio­n. One of the challenges in doing so is that there is not yet a democratic model for how facial recognitio­n or other AI technologi­es ought to be employed.

The U.S. government needs to be more proactive in internatio­nal standard-setting, working with domestic companies to ensure that internatio­nal AI and data standards protect human rights and individual liberty.

AI can be used to bolster individual freedom or crush it. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said about AI: “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” The race to lead in AI and write the rules of the next century is underway, and with it, the future of global security.

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