2017-8-17 15:16


Why China’s AI push is worrying

IMAGINE the perfect environment for developing artificial intelligence (AI). The ingredients would include masses of processing power, lots of computer-science boffins, atorrent of capital—and abundant data with which to train machines to recognise and respond to patterns. That environment might sound like afair description of America, the current leader in the field. But in some respects it is truer still of China.

The country is rapidly building up its cloud-computing capacity. For sheer volume of research on AI, if not quality, Chinese academics surpass their American peers; AI-related patent submissions in China almost tripled between 2010 and 2014 compared with the previous five years. Chinese startups are attracting billions in venture capital. Above all, China has over 700m smartphone users, more than any other country. They are consuming digital services, using voice assistants, paying for stuff with a wave of their phones—and all the while generating vast quantities of data. That gives local firms such as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent the opportunity to concoct best-in-class AI systems for everything from facial recognition tomessaging bots. The government in Beijing is convinced ofthe potential. On July 20th it outlined a development strategy designed to make China the world’s leading AI power by 2030.
中国正在飞速发展其云计算能力。不谈质量,仅就学术文献数量而言,中国的人工智能已远超美国同行。2010年至2014年,中国人工智能专利申请的数量比前五年翻了三倍。中国的创业公司吸引了数十亿元的风投。尤其重要的是,中国拥有超过7亿的智能手机用户,高于世界上其他任何国家。他们体验数字化服务,使用语音助手,用手机扫码支付,所有这些行为都会产生海量的数据。这给中国的本土企业, 比如阿里巴巴、百度、腾讯等提供了绝好的机会,打造一流的包括面部识别、聊天机器人等在内的人工智能系统。中国政府认识到了这一潜力,于7月20日公布发展人工智能的战略规划,计划于2030年将中国打造成为人工智能的领导力量。

An AI boom in the world's most populous place holds out enormous promise. No other country could generate such a volume of data to enable machines to learn patterns indicative of rare diseases, for example. The development of new technologies ought to happen faster, too. Because typing Chinese characters is fiddly, voice-recognition services are more popular than in the West; they should improve faster as a result. Systems to adjust traffic lights automatically in response to footage from roadside cameras are already being tested. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, a research arm of the consultancy, AI-driven automation could boost China’s GDP growth by more than a percentage point annually.

Yet the country’s AI plans also give cause for concern. One worry is that the benefits of Chinese breakthroughs will be muted by data protectionism. Acyber-security law that came into force in June requires foreign firms to store data they collect on Chinese customers within the country’s borders; outsiders cannot use Chinese data to offer services to third parties. It is not hard to imagine tit-for-tat constraints on Chinese firms. And if data cannot be pooled, the algorithms that run autonomous cars and other products may not be the most efficient.

A second area of unease is ethics and safety. In America, the technology giants of Silicon Valley have pledged to work together to make sure that any AI tools they develop are safe. They will look at techniques like “boxing“, in which AI agents are isolated from their environment so that any wayward behaviour does not have disastrous effects. All the leading AI researchers in the West are signatories to an open letter from 2015 calling for a ban on the creation of autonomous weapons. If it happens at all, the equivalent Chinese discussion about the limits of ethical AI research is far more opaque.

Chinese AI companies do have incentives to think about some of these issues: rogue AI would be a problem for the planet wherever it emerged. There is a self-interested case for the formulation of global safety standards, for example. But a third concern—that AI will be used principally to the benefit of China’s government—is a less tractable problem.

The new plan is open about AI’s value to the state. It envisages the use of the technology in everything from guided missiles to predictive policing. Western firms and governments are no angels when it comes to data collection and espionage. But Western companies are at least engaged in an open debate about the ethical implications of AI; and intelligence agencies are constrained by democratic institutions. Neither is true of China. AI is a technology with the potential to change the lives of billions. If China ends up having most influence over its future, then the state, not citizens, may be the biggest beneficiary.
中国最新的计划是将人工智能的价值利用在国家的整体战略上。他们设想将这种技术运用在从导弹制导到政策效果预期。当然,西方国家和企业在进行数据收集和间谍行动时也绝非圣贤。 但是西方企业至少会对人工智能发展的伦理性进行公开辩论,而且情报机构同时受到民主机制的监管。但中国完全不存在这种限制。人工智能是一种可能改变数十亿人生活的技术。如果中国政府从始至终一直影响其它发展,那么最大的受益者将不是人民,而是中国政府。