Robots of the East will leave the West behind

The reluctance of the west to seriously engage with the concept will hand further innovation to those in Asia




Vladimir Putin stated to a class full of science students on 1 September, 2017, ‘Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind… Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.’ Although I don’t hold the man in high regard; god forbid anyone on this campus does, I have to agree with Vlad here. An AI revolution is set to rapidly recalibrate the balance of power in the 21 century, and China seems poised to make a preemptive strike. Through the ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative Beijing intends to revitalise its domestic high-tech industries and become the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030.

The revolutionary economic and military ramifications of AI cannot be understated. Some spectators believe that the introduction of artificial intelligence could signal a fourth industrial revolution, with a PwC report estimating that AI will increase China’s GDP by 26 per cent by 2030. In addition, the People’s Liberation Army have projected that advancements could lead to intelligent unmanned military platforms, computer driven decision making, enhanced warfare simulations and even the expansion of human mental and physical ability. These capabilities are made even more daunting with the ascension of Xi Jinping, who is perhaps the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. His ‘Chinese Dream’ aims to evoke a self-confident and autonomous China, ready to re-emerge onto the world stage after two centuries of humiliation. This is shown by China’s expansion in the South China Sea and hardline stance on Taiwan. As Beijing continues to flex its muscles, it is imperative that China’s strength is effectively counterbalanced. The failure of Washington to effectively gear-up for a potential AI Cold War not only stems from ineptitude on the part of the current administration but is also the result of deep set values that characterise western liberal democracies.

With the introduction of Xi’s Military-Civil Integration Development Commission, Beijing hopes to implement a strategy of military and civil fusion. By utilising massive datasets, assembled by state-sponsored companies such as Tencent and Alibaba, the People’s Liberation Army hopes to rapidly develop machine learning systems, natural language processing, vision systems and voice recognition for military use. While it would be foolish to suggest that giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Google don’t collude with the American government, there lies a philosophical question as to who has the right to access user data in liberal western democracies. The Chinese Communist Party is not beholden to these ethical constraints, and the invasive state apparatus the regime enforces ensures that the collusion between technology giants and the central government is far more systematic. The disturbing implications of this are made evident by the fact that China’s phone using population of 772 million is larger than the entire population of Europe. In comparison to China, which has introduced a National AI Development Fund, Trump’s administration does not have a defined national strategy. Rather, the recent paranoia over ZTE and Huawei smartphones highlights how the dominant narrative seems more focused on deterring Chinese technological interference than improving Washington’s own capabilities.

The nativism of the Trump presidency has deterred immigrant engineers who fear being the victims of arbitrary immigration restrictions, and while Washington imposes economic tariffs on China for the ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative, the Trump administration has cut the 2018 budget for science and technology by 15 per cent. Liu Guozhi, the director of the Science and Technology Commission warned, “Whoever doesn’t disrupt will be disrupted!’ In this world of disruptors and disruptees, Trump’s America is almost certainly the latter.

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