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GeoTech Cues January 12, 2021

China’s ambiguity

By Mathew Burrows and Julian Mueller-Kaler

Speaking more broadly, interlocutors in Beijing emphasized that international cooperation has always been important to China’s economic development, alluding to the fact that the most successful innovations and AI advances often come from international research collaborations. At least on paper, the PRC’s eight AI principles emphasize collaboration, knowledge sharing, and a reliance on open source methods. One might question the sincerity of such proclamations, but the issuance of similar AI statements by the United States, the EU, and other countries are a sign of hope that a potential baseline could one day be established. In that regard, the Chinese viewed the G20 meeting in 2019 as a milestone, since it at least signaled global agreement on the guiding principles for AI.

Pre-pandemic, Chinese experts suggested that irrespective of the growing bilateral tensions, there are indeed shared views between the United States and China that could enable cooperation. Allegedly, both countries put emphasis on talent and research, which is why contributors to this project thought that both governments could undertake joint investments in digital infrastructure and/or develop binding political guidelines for the use of AI in order to ensure the improvement of applications for the general public. People in the tech world continue to emphasize the importance of an open source community and many Chinese organizations remain keen on cooperating with international and American entities such as think tanks or universities—channels that must be kept open to lay the groundwork for government-to-government talks in the future. Many agreed that dialogue between civil organizations can enable government cooperation in the long run, as decentralized governance will be key anyway, given the fact that modern technologies have already surpassed the regulatory capacity of most national and international entities. Even though no governance needs to be mutually exclusive, good and reliable frameworks are getting more complicated from year to year, due to the growing dual-use capabilities of the new technologies and the chaotic state of global cyber regulations. To put it bluntly, the world is running out of time. 

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