For the US, China is a partner rather than a foe in the new AI game
Published: Feb 11, 2024 11:48 AM
Photo: CFP

Photo: CFP

In recent days, China and the US have agreed to launch the first meeting of the China-US intergovernmental dialogue mechanism on artificial intelligence (AI) this spring. It is an implementation of the consensus Chinese and the US leaders reached in San Francisco in November, among which both sides agree to establish China-US government talks on AI.

However, the US relentless crackdown on China's tech industry has made the prospect of meaningful cooperation more uncertain. Unilateral sanctions on AI-related technology and equipment have been imposed, chip export to China controlled, and even Chinese AI model training access to US cloud space was restricted... Can these moves really protect the so-called national security of the US? Is it truly meaningful to make the other side bow down in various forms so that the hegemonic status can be consolidated? When talking about AI and forward-looking disruptive technologies, do we believe in dominance of a certain hegemonic power? 

None of the emerging technologies have created the same challenges and ethical and security issues as AI has done. Today's AI technologies have taken humankind into a new stage of development, yet AI-related risks are far beyond any single country's capability to address.

All the large language models developed by tech companies in the US, Europe, China and the rest of the world have been constantly creating a virtually new ecosystem, where new issues in the digital society are emerging one after another, including privacy issues, data security infringement, data bias, unfairness and discrimination, and more severe risks of uncontrollable application in automated military systems and biological weapons. 

It is of unprecedented importance for major global powers to explore a joint solution, such as the formulation of internationally recognized AI technical standards and ethical norms, so that AI would not be used for evil.

This emergency opens a window for the US and Western countries to abandon political bias toward China, and bond them into a new game for cooperation based on identifying common interests and setting up shared bottom lines of AI governance. An example is the restriction of the illegal or unethical development and utilization of AI in military systems and biological weapons.

Arati Prabhakar, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, reportedly said that despite China-US trade tensions over AI, the two countries would work together to collaborate on AI development, lessen its risks and assess its capabilities.

If the rising technology has an enemy, then that enemy is the hegemony. Rather than cutting off China's connection with cutting-edge AI technologies, what the US has done is more like isolating itself from the global technological innovation ecosystem. China is therefore motivated to cooperate with other major powers, which could likely to cultivate more potential competitors to the US, adding more unease to Washington. 

China, as a major developing country, also has an intermediary role to play in fostering international cooperation among developed and developing countries. It is also important to note that while developed countries with leading AI technology are creating and addressing these troubles, less developed ones had to struggle for their say and rights in global AI governance, as their participation and development space of AI technology are gradually undermined.

China in October launched the Global AI Governance Initiative, offering an open, inclusive and fair approach for the development, security and governance of emerging artificial intelligence technologies and services, which explicitly expressed the country's willingness to assume its responsibilities as a major power to engage in communication and pragmatic cooperation of global AI governance.

The US should put aside bias and ideological differences toward China, look for the long shelved common interests, and conduct pragmatic cooperation before AI-caused problems would go out of control. Both countries should take the responsibility in addressing the common concerns of humanity. China is ready, how about the US?

The author is a research assistant of the Institute of International Scientific and Technological Relations under Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development.