China’s ‘military-civil’ partnerships could hurt its AI ambitions: report

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Chinese policies governing civil-military fusion could limit the country’s plans to become a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI), according to a new report, as distrust of companies linked to the Chinese government grows amid US-China tensions.

Why it matters: China has set ambitious goals to become a world leader in AI by 2030 in order to move the country up the industrial value chain.

  • The country currently lags behind the US in AI development as it lacks the necessary talent and hardware prowess to take the top spot.
  • Washington is concerned that the close collaboration between China’s military and private sector, which in turn works with US companies, could give China a leg up in a global arms race.

“‘Civil-military’ integration makes it harder for [China’s]  firms to succeed in the global market because such policies foster distrust in other societies. A lack of trust will hinder Chinese firms’ ability to acquire significant global market share outside of nations that are taking part in China’s subsidized Digital Silk Road initiatives.”

—US-based think tank Center for Data Innovation (CDI) wrote in a report

Details: China has shown interest in the military applications of AI, along with the US and other countries. While China has voiced support for a ban on the use of autonomous weapons at the United Nations, it still supports developing so-called “killer robots.”

  • CDI’s report, published on Monday, ranks the US, China, and the European Union on their AI abilities. The document grades capabilities according to talent, research, data, and hardware, among others.
  • CDI said that China still lags behind the US in AI, but it’s catching up fast.
  • Despite China’s huge population, it’s still short on talent, the report said. This shortage extends to the chipmaking sector, which the AI industry is reliant on to provide computing power.
  • The quality of research papers in China is also an issue. The country ranks below the US and the EU.

Context: A number of companies, both foreign and Chinese, have faced international repercussions and censure for their work in China and with the country’s government.

  • The US put Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei on a trade blacklist earlier this year over national security concerns.
  • Meanwhile, members of the US military and figures from the tech sector have called out Google, which as an AI research center in Beijing, for its work in China, saying that it benefits the Chinese military. Peter Thiel, venture capitalist and Facebook board member went as far as calling Google’s China links “treasonous,” giving no evidence.