In a world increasingly driven by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), President Biden’s recent remarks stressing the importance of using these innovations as “tools of opportunity, not as weapons of oppression” resonate deeply. However, his subsequent commitment to collaborate with “our competitors” in AI development raises questions about the direction such cooperation may take, especially with China.
China stands at the forefront of utilizing emerging technologies for both domestic and international control, and this makes President Biden’s plan to work closely with them on AI development concerning. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has harnessed AI to identify and detain specific individuals in the Xinjiang region, using state-run data systems to facilitate mass surveillance and oppression.
China’s engagement with technology firms like iFlytek has led to the development of AI-driven voice recognition systems capable of identifying specific voices in phone conversations. Their extensive facial recognition infrastructure segments populations based on features like eyebrow size and skin color. “Sharp Eyes,” a comprehensive public-private surveillance initiative, employs AI to analyze individuals’ movements, associations, medical records, online behavior, and more, establishing an all-encompassing surveillance network aimed at enhancing social control.
Furthermore, the CCP actively exports these AI technologies to like-minded governments worldwide. Their provision of AI-driven digital monitoring capabilities to numerous countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and beyond has deepened their global influence. China now boasts 296 surveillance partnerships in 96 countries, many of which involve their designated “AI Champion” companies.
This international cooperation hinges on a shared vision for technology usage, and the vast disparity between America’s and China’s perspectives on this matter is evident. In addition, collaborative AI development could inadvertently bolster the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Tech companies operating in China have indirectly benefited the Chinese military, as the CCP’s strategy of Military Civil-Fusion seeks to harness technological advancements for military purposes.
China has already unveiled offensive applications of AI, such as AI-enabled unmanned surface vessels for patrolling disputed areas in the South China Sea and armed swarming drones capable of autonomous guidance, target acquisition, and attack execution. The PLA’s ambitions extend to using AI to identify vulnerabilities in U.S. operating systems and launch precision strikes, including deep fakes and targeted propaganda in the shared information environment. Collaborating with China on AI could inadvertently advance their military capabilities at the expense of U.S. interests.
China’s ambition to lead the global AI race by 2030, coupled with its strategic pursuit of first-mover advantage, highlights the urgency for the United States to set the tone for AI development worldwide. Rather than collaborating with authoritarian regimes, the U.S. should focus on establishing appropriate global safeguards rooted in American values like transparency and openness.
To achieve this, the U.S. should play a more active role in international bodies that establish tech standards, countering China’s expanding influence. American companies can contribute by open-sourcing elements of their AI technologies to facilitate the identification and mitigation of potential misuse. Additionally, promoting explainable AI, where the processes behind machine-learning algorithms’ outputs are transparent and understandable to humans, should be a priority. This ensures that the technology is designed in a manner that fosters understanding, rather than creating black-box systems like those in China that segment populations based on ethnicity.