Race to Develop AI is One Between Chinese Authoritarianism and US Democracy

2884
Monitors show facial recognition software in use at the headquarters of the artificial intelligence company Megvii, in Beijing, May 10, 2018. Beijing is putting billions of dollars behind facial recognition and other technologies to track and control its citizens. Photo: Gilles Sabrie / New York Times

By Thomas C. Linn, a U.S. Naval War College professor, a U.S. Army War College instructor

“In two years, China will be ahead of the United States in AI (artificial intelligence),” states Denis Barrier, CEO of global venture firm Cathay Innovation. Others say the same. If so, China will largely determine how this technology transforms the world. Today’s contest is more than a race for dominance in a new technology — it’s one between authoritarianism and democracy.

“AI is the world’s next big inflection point,” says Ajeet Singh, CEO of ThoughtSpot in Palo Alto. Artificial intelligence is machine learning, which self-learns programmed tasks, using data, and the more it gets, the more learned it becomes. It drives cars, recognizes individuals, diagnoses diseases and more. Like past transformational technologies, artificial intelligence will convey advantages to the nation that leads its use — accelerating research, increasing productivity and enabling dominant military capabilities.

Hence, China’s race to dominate the technology.

In the United States, companies and agencies are pursuing artificial intelligence development in a decentralized manner. In China, the government has a focused national effort, following Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence defeating the world’s top Go players in 2016-17. That defeat was China’s “Sputnik moment,” (the moment that a technological achievement by a rival galvanized American political resolve to invest in space technology) — one the U.S. has yet to have with artificial intelligence. And, unlike the United States, China has a national strategy for artificial intelligence, setting milestones, accelerating China’s pursuit of the technology:

2020: Be equal to the United States

2025: Surpass the United States

2030: Lead the world as an artificial-intelligence innovation center

“Research institutes, universities, private companies and the government all working together … I haven’t seen anything like it,” said Steven White, an associate professor at Tsinghua University, China’s MIT. In the race for artificial intelligence dominance, “the U.S. will lose because they don’t have the resources,” said White.

But, needs are driving China, too. It’s artificial intelligence strategy addresses:

Its shrinking labor force — A “national crisis,” says the National Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which predicts China’s working population will drop from 631 million in 2020, to 523 million in 2035, and 424 million in 2050. China must also care for a growing elderly population. The United Nations estimates China’s over-65-age group will increase from about 160 million in 2020, to 360 million in 2050.

How to remain an economic power — China seeks to operate almost a million robots and produce 150,000 industrial ones in 2020.

Growing health care needs — China seeks a “rapid, accurate intelligent medical system,” including artificial intelligence-scanning imagery for cancer, robots providing medical references for doctors, and artificial intelligence-powered online consultations.

Military dominance of the East and South China seas, which allows access for China’s export-driven economy. China’s government seeks a civil-military fusion of artificial intelligence, enabling faster military decision-making, robotic submarines and large drone swarms that could overwhelm opposing forces.

Control by the Communist Party over China’s population. Internal unrest — coastal rich vs. interior poor; ethnically different regions like Tibet; an anxious middle class; and pro-democracy efforts — has long concerned authorities. China is using artificial intelligence to build an Orwellian state. Smart cities track peoples’ movements. China, netted with millions of cameras and facial and vehicle recognition systems, can rapidly identify individuals. Police wear facial recognition glasses that do the same. Biometric data provide even better identification. And people get social credit scores, which determine eligibility for loans, travel and more. This artificial-intelligence-enabled system enables political repression and strengthens autocratic rule.

Today, a divided America needs to “get [its] act together as a country”regarding artificial intelligence said former Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt. If it doesn’t, America’s greatness will pass, and so will hope for a free world order.

Read the source article in The San Francisco Chronicle.