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China, US at Odds Over AI Technology’s Future

On Nov. 14th, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission warned the U.S. government of the potential dangers of being too reliant on Chinese technology in its annual report. A congressional advisory panel claims purchasing internet-linked devices manufactured in China is leaving the United States open to possible security breaches.

“The lax security protections and universal connectivity of IoT devices creates numerous points of vulnerability that hackers or malicious state actors can exploit to hold U.S. critical infrastructure, businesses, and individuals at risk,” the report states.

In 2015, the two countries agreed not to support or conduct cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property. However, the U.S. still has security concerns regarding China’s position in the high-tech industry. According to the report, the U.S. depends on commercial off-the-shelf products for more than 95 percent of its tech systems and electronic components, many of which are manufactured in China.

Recently, the U.S. government has taken significant steps to limit China’s influence over its technology. TheVerge reported in August that President Trump banned government use of Huawei and ZTE tech as a part of the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Authorization Act. Major U.S. telecommunication companies are also heavily reliant on global supply chains that are also dominated by Chinese manufacturers. With artificial intelligence developing rapidly, the government is adamant about improving security and stopping China from using American AI technology against the U.S.

A recent proposal from the Department of Commerce listed specific areas of in-development AI tech software that could require licensing to sell to other countries. This includes categories such as computer vision and natural language processing.  Nextgov reported on Nov. 20th that the proposal is a reaction to China’s desire to be at the forefront of the next industrial revolution. In the article, R. David Edelman, former adviser to President Obama, believes the proposal is “intended to be a shot across the bow, directed specifically at Beijing, in an attempt to flex their muscles on just how broad these restrictions could be.”

The challenge in restricting advanced technology lies in the fact that AI software does not come directly from a specific device, the article continued. Because of that, restricting the technology is extremely difficult to do. Jack Clark, policy director for OpenAI, told the publication he is pleased to see this issue come to light, because it’s an important issue that needs to be resolved. For example, Clark noted, many tech companies freely provide open-source AI software and other tools to get more people to pay for their services. In addition, the U.S. made publicly available code exempt when the country regulated the export of encryption.

On Wednesday, the MIT Technology Review published an article arguing that U.S. attempts to thwart China’s progression into an AI superpower could backfire. In the event that new restrictions are mishandled, the “collateral damage” would fall onto major American businesses. The article speculates that companies such as Apple or Google, which are reliant on China for a significant portion of profits, would likely scale back their AI development to avoid fighting for export control. Moreover, smaller companies wouldn’t even have the option of international expansion due to the restrictions and costs, the article asserted.

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