China doesn’t wait to set the rules on innovative AI

Last week, I watched the CBC News podcast “Nothing Strange”” to talk about the draft regulation—and what it means for the Chinese government to act so quickly on a technology that is still in its infancy.

As I said in the podcast, I see the draft regulation as a combination of reasonable restrictions on AI risks and a continuation of the Chinese government’s tradition of strong intervention in the tech industry.

Many provisions in the draft regulation are principles that AI critics are advocating in the West: data used to train generalized AI models must not violate intellectual property rights or privacy; algorithms must not discriminate against users based on race, ethnicity, age, gender and other attributes; AI companies should be transparent about how they collect training data and how they hire humans to label the data.

At the same time, there are rules that other countries will likely falter on. The government is requiring users of these general AI tools to register with their real identities—just like on any social platform in China. The content that AI software generates must also “reflect the core values ​​of socialism.”

Neither of these claims is surprising. The Chinese government has heavily regulated technology companies in recent years, punishing lax censorship platforms and new product integration enter the censorship mode that has been set.

The document makes that regulatory tradition easy to see: frequent mentions of other rules that have been adopted in China, on personal data, algorithms, deepfakes, cybersecurity, etc. In some ways, it seems that these disjointed documents are slowly forming a web of rules to help government handle new challenges in the technology age.

The Chinese government’s ability to react quickly to a new technological phenomenon is a double-edged sword. The strength of this approach, which looks at each new technology trend separately, “is its accuracy, creating specific remedies for specific problems,” Wrote Matt Sheehan, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The weakness is its piecemeal nature, with regulators forced to draft new regulations for new applications or issues.” If governments are busy with new rules, they may miss the opportunity to think strategically about the long-term vision of AI. We can contrast this approach with that of the EU, which has been working on the “extremely ambitious” AI Act for many years, as My colleague Melissa recently explained. (The recent revision of the draft AI Act includes general AI regulations.)

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