China contributes to global AI governance

By Fang Xingdong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/30 21:14:04

Nation can be leader in AI global governance, but problems need to be fixed


Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become one of the hottest phrases, both in China and elsewhere. The increasing applications for AI will bring profound changes to the development of human society. As such, AI governance has also become a hot issue.

Since Google's AlphaGo defeated Go world champion Lee Sedol in 2016, people have been looking forward to new and more varied AI applications. Why have the challenges facing AI governance suddenly become a global concern?

Today, with more than 4 billion internet users around the world, a group of tech giants worth billions or even trillions of dollars have emerged. Since the data of billions of users on their platforms point to easy-to-use AI application scenarios and business potential, these companies have invested heavily in AI research and development. Thus, this round of the AI boom is likely to enter the large-scale application stage, affecting the personal interests of everyone, which could trigger AI competition among various countries.

It is true that the development of AI technology has brought great convenience to our lives and new changes and breakthroughs to government management. For instance, the facial recognition system at a Chinese airport recently helped identify a suspect alleged to have murdered his mother.

However, in the process of large-scale AI applications, we also have to face a huge challenge. AI applications may have significant impacts on privacy protection, social ethics, employment, and other fields, and we still lack a comprehensive understanding about this. In particular, a global AI governance mechanism is still missing.

In early April, the European Commission issued the official version of the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. According to the document, AI applications should adhere to four ethical principles: respect for human autonomy, prevention of harm, fairness and explicability.

AI governance refers to a set of ethics, norms, policies, systems and laws surrounding AI development and application. AI is one of the areas in which China's high-tech development may gain a leading edge. Yet we fail to attach enough importance to AI governance. 

The possible impact of the AI boom as well as the complexity and severity of the subsequent issues could be seriously underestimated.

Moreover, due to the lack of a clear governance mechanism, some questions have surfaced in the international community, including misunderstandings and distortions. Therefore, it is essential to have a system that conforms with international norms, which is the basic premise for effectively alleviating concerns and correcting misunderstandings.

One of the major experiences from our success in the past is "development before governance," that is, allowing problems to emerge and rectifying them later. But such "experience" cannot simply be repeated in AI development.

This time, AI applications will have a huge impact on overall economic and social development, especially in terms of commercial and government applications based on personal information and data. However, the legal system for the protection of personal information is still missing in China. Meanwhile, companies pursuing rapid growth haven't formed industrial associations and organizations with sufficient inclusiveness and representation or effective industrial norms, regulations and self-discipline mechanisms. 

Then, what can China do with respect to AI governance?

First, we should pay more attention to AI governance, regarding it as a top priority. We must have a global vision from the very beginning in terms of AI governance and need to actively participate in governance initiatives of international organizations.

Second, relevant government authorities need to change the "development before governance" approach, focusing on governance while developing. Since many AI applications may directly affect public interests, it is necessary to abandon the "black box operation" mode and improve the publicity of relevant projects.

Third, given the difficulties in system construction, we must solve core problems first to address main conflicts. While the establishment of a personal information protection system lags behind, we need to make use of latecomer advantages to create more forward-looking legislation for personal information protection based on trends in AI development.

Last but not least, we have accumulated a lot of problems in internet governance in the past, such as the excessive collection and abuse of personal data on some platforms, the transparency of algorithms, the implementation of a third-party supervision system, the fairness and neutrality of search engines, and anti-monopoly issues regarding the internet. Before the mass application of AI technology takes effect, it is necessary to fix these problems to avoid their further amplification and deterioration.

The author is director of the Center for Internet and Society at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications.
Newspaper headline: Nation can be leader in AI global governance, but problems need to be fixed


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