China is on its way to becoming the first global superpower for Artificial Intelligence.
The People’s Republic of China has the most ambitious AI strategy of all nations and provides the most resources worldwide for its implementation.
China combines a gigantic amount of data with talent, companies, research and capital to build the world’s leading AI ecosystem.
In 2017, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China (also known as the Central People’s Government) published the Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (here you can find the original document in English).
This strategy is part of the even bigger national “Made in China 2025” plan and will also be linked to the new (digital) Silk Road.
With these plans, China aims to become the world’s largest economic power and to provide its people with adequate prosperity guaranteed by a politically stable system. In addition, China is ensuring that economic, military and diplomatic interests are safeguarded in this way.
Artificial Intelligence for the enforcement of Chinese interests
Artificial Intelligence plays an essential role in this.
AI is aimed to connect and upgrade the entire Chinese industry by 2025. Artificial Intelligence will produce goods and control companies, while balancing supply and demand.
Additionally, AI will help the central government monitor and control its own population. Artificial Intelligence will be used to protect military and digital interests, but it will also enable the population to live a good life in safety.
Central strategy – local implementation
China is pursuing a centrally controlled strategy with hyperlocal implementation. Values and goals are set from above, and resources are made available.
At the local level of municipalities, cities and provinces, regional administrations compete for the new AI clusters.
The result is a national and regional administrative state that works closely with research, investors and industry to build a successful AI ecosystem.
The implementation of the national strategy varies greatly from region to region. While cities such as Tianjin and Shanghai have already launched multi-billion-dollar AI city Venture Capital funds and had entire districts and islands built for new AI companies, other provinces are still in the process of learning and development.
AI as a career engine
Overall, China is doing many things right. The provision of legal frameworks, resources and goals, coupled with local freedom to adapt, is creating a rapidly growing AI industry. At the same time, the state provides incentives for the administration and politicians to assert themselves in the AI industry and to recommend themselves for higher tasks.
To achieve this, the government takes an analytical approach and is aware of its own weaknesses and strengths. Hundreds of new AI professorships have been established, and hundreds of thousands of study places have been created.
China now has a mature and efficient start-up ecosystem on which younger AI companies are building. There is sufficient capital from both the state and private sector for the establishment, scaling and growth of AI start-ups in China.
The state demands and promotes
Young companies also receive tax breaks, government contracts and offices in AI clusters if they wish.
In parallel, China’s government is working closely with established digital companies such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. The strategic orientations are accompanied by the central government, the collection and exchange of data within the companies is made possible.
As a result, China has the largest capital market for AI start-ups, now publishes the most research papers on AI, has generous data regulation and trains the most AI talent.
But at the same time, China lacks diversity, creativity and partners. For this reason, several agencies have been given a government mandate to attract talent from Europe and to build relationships with European partners.
The Chinese Social Score
A relevant example for the application and implementation of Artificial Intelligence in China is the Social Score.
Basically, it reflects the idea of controlling and managing a society – with machines instead of people.
Every country has laws, cultural norms, social morals and social agreements. The police, courts, politicians, administrations, media and citizens are involved in a constant dialogue; it determines what we define as right or wrong.
In China, this task has partly been taken over by a machine.
The machine decides on correct and incorrect behavior.
The Social Score is a system that collects all kinds of data about citizens and companies, sorts, analyses, evaluates, interprets and implements (human-suggested) actions based on it.
In concrete terms, this means that if you wait at a red light, you get plus points. If you pay your taxes and bills on time, you get plus points. If you are socially involved and accept the rules, you also get plus points.
If you have a good Social Score, you get unsolicited benefits for your social behaviour. These include, for example, faster visa application processing and more freedom to travel. When dating online, algorithms higher prioritize the own profile. Banks offer lower interest rates for company loans or private real estate purchases. People with a high Social Score are promoted faster and get better job offers.
However, people who go red, cut off someone while driving, spit on the street or stick their chewing gum under their seat get minus points.
Anyone who criticizes the state in social media or pays their bills too late also receives minus points.
A poor Social Score thus reduces the probability of reproduction, earning money or leaving the country.
Freedom or security?
None of this is an excerpt from George Orwell’s novel 1984 or Black Mirror (TV series 2011-2019), but rather the reality already lived today in some parts of China.
China is not testing it alone. Countries like Singapore are developing their own AI-driven society monitoring systems with comparable goals.
For us, the Social Score raises many questions that exemplify our discussion about Artificial Intelligence:
- Who monitors the score, who imports the data and who trains the system?
- How are ethical debates and the moral consensus of a society integrated?
- Which state and civil authorities monitor the system to prevent manipulation, prejudice and abuse of power?
- Is there a legal way to decide on a case-by-case basis to check one’s own score?
- What data is collected? Who has access to it?
- How is the privacy of citizens and companies ensured?
- Are only Chinese citizens monitored or all people on Chinese territory?
- Does the government also collect data on Chinese people abroad?
- How can I view my Social Score?
Collecting data and setting up administrative systems to ensure protection, freedom and security for all concerned is a legitimate tool for states. However, as surveillance increases, privacy must be respected as long as the welfare of society is not affected.
Artificial Intelligence wars are coming
China will become the first global AI superpower in the foreseeable future.
How will the rest of the world react to China’s leading position?
The USA has already put some Chinese AI companies on sanctions lists. At the same time the export of American AI software to China has been restricted.
Under the leadership of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Europe will increasingly try to regulate and control AI.
While the USA is betting on confrontation, Europe is taking the path of integration.
But many smaller countries are now dependent on Chinese capital or have an unregulated digital single market. China will expand its influence along the digital Silk Road with the help of capital and AI software.
We will therefore observe that the Americans will actively fight Chinese ambitions.
Europeans will try to control Chinese AI, but only within their own digital borders.
The battle for control of the strongest Artificial Intelligence will accelerate. China has a head start in this respect, which will be further expanded.
This time the Western countries will have to catch up.
All Rights Reserved for Fabian Westerheide