Why Are so Many American Companies Helping the Chinese Regime?

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When you think of artificial intelligence (AI), what images spring to mind? Murderous robots kicking down your door, enslaving you and your loved ones? If so, you’re not alone. According to the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), more than 80 percent of Europeans believe that AI is poorly regulated. Going forward, almost 60 percent of Europeans fear relevant authorities will fail to control the technology. Are their fears warranted?

Before delving into the specific risks, it’s important to differentiate between AI and artificial general intelligence (AGI). The former refers to a system that is capable of rivaling or surpassing human cognitive abilities. However, in order for the machine to perform the function, a human must first program it. Then, as it’s fed more and more data, the “machine” becomes a more proficient problem solver. In other words, AI machines are pre-programmed. We see this with speech processing and image recognition devices, both of which are excellent at performing one dimensional tasks.

With AGI, a subset of AI, things are a little different. Whereas AI is pre-programmed to do very specific things (like identify facial features), AGI focuses on machines that are not just more efficient than humans, but are also capable of “reasoning, planning, and problem-solving.” Now, if you happen to be thinking of sentient, robotic soldiers, you’re on the right track. Although AGI is not yet here, it’s coming. And when it does, these machines will be self-aware; they will be able to carry out a whole host of tasks, from beating humans at chess to beating humans to death. The threats posed may prove to be existential in nature.

Aiding the Enemy

Speaking of existential threats, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, recently wrote a piece describing China’s investment in all things AI. According to Schmidt, “China is now a peer technological competitor. It is organized, resourced, and determined to win this technology competition and to reshape the global order to serve its own narrow interests. AI and other emerging technologies are central to China’s efforts to expand its global influence, surpass the economic and military power of the US, and lock down domestic stability.” Obviously concerned, Schmidt continues, “China funds massive digital infrastructure projects around the world, while seeking to set global standards that reflect authoritarian values. Its technology is being used to enable social control and suppress dissent.” If Schmidt, a man I have previously discussed, is indeed correct, why are so many American research labs, specifically dedicated to AI research, currently situated in mainland China?

According to a rather interesting report published by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft “spend over $76 billion on R&D annually.” As for their “collective market capitalization,” it stands well “above $5 trillion.” However, according to the report, the six companies “receive less than half of their total revenue from the U.S. market.”

China plays a major role in providing the other half of their total revenue. This is bad news for the United States. On Sept. 1, the Chinese regime introduced a new Data Security Law. Officials in Beijing now have complete access to data held by all companies in China, including foreign-owned companies. Under the new law, all data is now considered “core state” data.

Epoch Times Photo
Huang Yongzhen, CEO of Watrix, demonstrates the use of his firm’s gait recognition software at his company’s offices in Beijing on Oct. 31, 2018. A Chinese technology startup hopes to begin selling software that recognizes people by their body shape and how they walk, enabling identification when faces are hidden from cameras. Already used by police on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, “gait recognition” is part of a major push to develop artificial intelligence and data-driven surveillance across China, raising concern about how far the technology will go. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

In a commentary piece for Defense One, Klon Kitchen and Bill Drexel, two researchers intimately familiar with security threats, discussed the very real dangers of conducting AI research in China. In one particularly striking section, the authors focus on Microsoft’s Beijing-based Research Asia Lab, one of the biggest facilities in Asia; in fact, “over the past two decades,” it has become “the single most important institution in the birth and growth of the Chinese AI ecosystem.”

With the world understandably fixated on events in Afghanistan, it’s important that we remain focused on China, the United States’ biggest competitor. Of course, traditional terrorism, in the form of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, poses a genuine threat. But the biggest threat comes from technologically-enhanced terrorism. As we have seen with the likes of bitcoin and ethereum, the two most popular cryptocurrencies in existence, bad actors benefit from emerging technologies, largely because they are under-regulated and poorly understood by those in positions of political power. AI is no different. Advancements in technology are occurring at breakneck speeds; regulators simply can’t keep up. The Chinese regime, hidden behind its great wall of secrecy, is busy working on the weapons of tomorrow. The goat herders with kalashnikovs in Kabul are menacing, but the Chinese regime poses a far bigger threat to the Western world.

According to the aforementioned Schmidt, the United States is “playing catch-up in preparing for this global tech competition.” Now, with the troops out of Afghanistan, can President Biden get the American “AI troops” out of China? Call me a pessimist, but I highly doubt it. In March, as you may recall, the Chinese regime orchestrated an attack on Microsoft Exchange servers. The information harvested, according to reports, was used to train AI systems. Yet Microsoft continues to conduct business in China. I am familiar with the concept of profit over people, even profit over national loyalty, but profit over basic common sense is a first.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Mac Ghlionn


John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the likes of the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, The American Conservative, National Review, The Public Discourse, and other respectable outlets. He is also a columnist at Cointelegraph.

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