China should play a vital role in shaping the AI guardrails, the chief of OpenAI reckons.

China should play a vital role in shaping the AI guardrails, the chief of OpenAI reckons.(Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

OpenAI reaches out to China for AI safety guidelines

  • China should play a vital role in shaping the AI guardrails.
  • OpenAI calls for coordinated international regulation of generative AI.

Currently the loudest advocate of AI regulation is the man behind the company that invented ChatGPT himself: Sam Altman. After winning the hearts of lawmakers during his US Senate hearing and briefly clashing with European Union regulators, Altman has underscored the importance of collaborating with China to mitigate the risks of AI systems.

As part of the Asia leg of Altman’s global goodwill tour to promote AI governance, the OpenAI CEO spoke at a Beijing conference on June 10. “China has some of the best AI talents in the world, and fundamentally, given the difficulties in solving alignment for advanced AI systems, this requires the best minds from around the world,” Altman told participants at the event hosted by the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence.

The academy has always firmly positioned itself in China’s AI sector. The country’s Ministry of Science and Technology and Beijing’s local government support the Chinese non-profit. Chinese speakers at the conference came from top universities and companies, including US-blacklisted telecom company Huawei Technologies, search giant Baidu and speech-recognition firm iFlytek. 

In 2019, the US sanctioned iFlytek, saying it aided the Chinese government in surveilling ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. In the midst of the US efforts to contain China’s AI progress using sanctions, the OpenAI CEO is choosing engagement. Since last October, the US has imposed sanctions on China to prevent it from accessing the most popular cutting-edge chips needed for AI development. 

Reportedly, Altman seemed unfazed by the escalating competition between Washington and Beijing to lead the technology. He emphasized the importance of collaboration between American and Chinese researchers to mitigate the risks of AI systems. “With the emergence of increasingly powerful AI systems, the stakes for global cooperation have never been higher,” Altman said, according to Bloomberg.

Interestingly, Altman’s presence at the conference was welcomed with widespread cheers in the audience even though ChatGPT is not officially available in China. China now produces more high-quality research papers in the field than the US but still lags in “paradigm-shifting breakthroughs,” according to an analysis from The Brookings Institution. 

To top it off, the Chinese government has prioritized developing AI in recent policy statements while also pushing ahead with regulation to ensure it conforms to China’s heavily censored internet. On his global tour, Altman emphasized cautious regulation as European regulators consider the AI Act. 

The EU’s proposed ruling is considered one of the most ambitious plans globally to create guardrails to address the technology’s impact on human rights, health and safety, and tech giants’ monopolistic behavior. The proposed ruling in China significantly overlaps with the EU act but imposes additional censorship measures that ban generating false or politically sensitive speech.

In the thick of a US-China AI race, OpenAI called for global ruling

Just a day before his virtual appearance at Beijing’s conference, Altman used a high-profile trip to South Korea to call for coordinated international regulation of generative AI. “As these systems get very, very powerful, that does require special concern, and it has a global impact. So it also requires global cooperation,” Altman said at an event in Seoul, ahead of a meeting with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

On the same day, President Yoon, in a statement, stressed the importance of international standards to prevent unwanted “side effects” related to platforms such as ChatGPT, saying there was a need to act “with a sense of speed.”