BEIJING – “National priority”. Thus, already in 2017, Beijing labeled the development of artificial intelligence. That year, China announced that it would become the world’s leading AI innovation hub by 2030.
An overall market, today, which is worth 20 billion dollars in the country. And that could double in the next two years. Even if the US trade sanctions that affect technology imports can slow down their progress.
However, Beijing has advantages. The Chinese are the world’s largest users of smartphones to pay for goods and services, voice recognition software and virtual assistants. In hotels, hospitals, banks and restaurants it is no longer surprising to see robot employees (and China aims to produce its first humanoid robots by 2025 thanks to AI).
Millions of engineers
Approximately 1.4 million engineers graduate every year, a number six times higher than that of the USAof which at least a third are in the field of artificial intelligence.
There is another side of the coin, however. Although in August this year China published draft rules to limit the use of facial recognition – putting limits on how companies use data and artificial intelligence – ample room for maneuver is left in the field of “national security”: a very broad concept for the Communist Party.
Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous in many Chinese cities and some of the major suppliers of facial recognition systems have entered into partnerships with various local police forces to provide technology for security purposes, to track not only criminals but also dissidents.
Recognized in two seconds
An explosion of artificial intelligence systems «which have provided the tools to put into practice a utopian vision of Party control over people’s lives“, the Wall Street Journal journalists Josh Chin and Liza Lin, authors of the book “Surveillance State”, told Il Friday di Repubblica last year. Technology at the center of international criticism aimed at Beijing for the treatment reserved for example to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
It is difficult to measure the size and growth of China’s “surveillance state” due to government secrecy. The latest data, dating back to 2017, speaks of 20 million cameras for the “Skynet” program: other independent estimates instead they indicate hundreds of millions.
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Unlike the general vulgate, however, there is no “magic algorithm that draws on AI cameras to calculate a score which determines everyone’s place in society”, writes Merics, one of the most authoritative research institutes in the world on China.
«The social credit system exists but it is poorly digitalised, highly fragmented and focuses mainly on businesses. China has pledged to ban the use of AI for social scoring.”
Mid-July this year the country became one of the first in the world to regulate AI. Trying to balance state control over technology with the tempting opportunities the sector offers.
Privacy and intellectual property
Providers are asked to register their services and conduct a safety review before placing products on the market. Content must respect privacy and intellectual property rules.
Beijing will impose clearly visible labels on artificially created content. It will also require any company to use “authentic data” to train their models. And AI must reflect, of course, “core socialist values”.
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