China’s systematic use of AI for social surveillance and control should cause us to think carefully about what that means
A 2017 central government document laid out the country’s plan for global dominance in AI by 2030, asking all “people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government, all State Council ministries, and all directly controlled institutions” to ”please carefully implement.“ (translation)
To achieve that timeline, China has employed several operations against the United States including the Confucius Institutes (fronts for Chinese propaganda according to the FBI, 2020), the Thousand Talents Program (spying and intellectual-property theft, Bloomberg, 2019) and cyber theft. While many Confucius Institutes have been exposed by key members of the Senate and many are being terminated domestically as a result, Chinese-driven cyber theft is costing the U.S. economy more than $100 billion per year, according to the White House.
U.S. officials are considering whether to fully terminate the Thousand Talents Program on the ground of its functioning as an espionage operation in academia, legalized either by foreign donations or by visas. An estimated 350,000 Chinese students are enrolled in U.S. universities where R & D and research is performed for U.S. government ventures. The awkward problem is that China passed a law in 2014 that mandates the full cooperation of any Chinese citizen/student in the U.S. to collect and provide intelligence to the Chinese intelligence services, More than 100 universities are under scrutiny, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
During the last year, several arrests, charges, and findings of guilt have been recorded in various media:
-US professor arrested, accused of hiding relationship with Chinese university (The Hill, February 7, 2020)
-Harvard University Professor and Two Chinese Nationals Charged in Three Separate China Related Cases (United States Department of Justice, January 28, 2020)
-Texas professor charged with stealing Silicon Valley tech for China’s Huawei (Fox Business, September 12, 2019)
-UCLA prof guilty of conspiring to steal missile secrets for China, could face more than 200 years in prison (Campus Reform, July 8, 2019)
In February of this year, President Trump signed an Executive Order to develop an aggressive action plan to make AI a major U.S. priority. But will that be enough to compete with China?
The answer appears to be: Not at present. China has at least a three-year advantage and continues to seize U.S, intellectual property and trade secrets by all means available. Patents, data, and intelligence are then provided to various Chinese universities to exploit under the Double First Class Initiative at several Chinese universities to grow internal education, skill, and talent to achieve the 2030 goal.
AI is pervasive within in China for the purpose of total surveillance. It is applied to students and the general population in many areas including digital, behavior modeling and scoring, healthcare, environmental, supply chain acquisition, space, energy, economic growth, transportation, social intersections, biometrics, variable robotic applications, and computing. China has also provided venture capital to start-up companies, working capital to existing companies to expand their production models, and has offer exceptional tax break enhancements. Three large tech companies in China—Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu—have been tasked with collection and data control and management of all Chinese entities, internally and globally. Their respective systems model, score, and decide which priorities and risks that both help and hinder their collective 2030 goal.
Meanwhile, U.S. companies such as Google, Amazon, and IBM—all of which have facial recognition as well as other technologies inside the digitized AI sector—have made decisions to no longer sell to or cooperate with several U.S. federal government agencies due to privacy debates and criticisms of law enforcement policies. Thus China has a distinct advantage over the United States because in China, corporate ethics would strongly favor collaboration and cooperation with the government for the sake of the nation, whereas in the United States, powerful tech companies are under no such obligation. That creates a quandary for policymakers and the federal government on how to gain and maintain an edge over China with regard to AI and technology in contested areas such as the military and space. Thus dominance appears to be shaping up as a global competition between the United States and China where the U.S. needs visionaries and allies to reach a higher AI frontier than that of China, now and for 2030.