Why economic benefits of AI outweigh privacy concerns in China
DESPITE the concerns of personal privacy infringements, China has been pushing ahead with artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to help manage and police its population of 1.4 billion people.
By using AI, the country can analyze vast amounts of data more efficiently to curb socials ills and crimes, provide effective public services, and improve healthcare and education sectors.
Further, development and integration of AI technology within the different sectors in the world’s second-largest economy is also expected to create a whole host of new high skill tech jobs in China, as it seeks to transform itself into a tech-driven economy in the near future.
But beyond all of that, AI is capable of addressing problems unique to China due to its geography and demography.
Dean of the Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University, Xue Lan, said that due to the vast landmass and differences in the population density between its urban and rural parts, China faces specific challenges in keeping public order.
Xue, who is currently advising China’s science and technolo0gy ministry on AI governance said that neutralizing crime in big Chinese cities, for example, could be extremely difficult without the help of advanced camera surveillance and AI-powered facial recognition technology.
“Yes, facial recognition may infringe on personal privacy to a certain degree, but it also brings a collective benefit, so it is a question of how to balance individual and societal benefits,” said Xue.
China established an AI governance expert committee last February, comprising of experts from both academia and industry, of which Xue is a member.
The committee announced eight AI principles with the central theme of “Developing Responsible AI,” offering guidelines and standards to industry associations.
Healthy development of AI-based solutions
According to Xue, concerns about privacy infringement are superseded by the need for stability in China.
“China is such a big country experiencing a giant transformation; there are great challenges to maintain social stability and protect people’s property and lives.
“In whichever country, to guarantee security, there are trade-offs between protecting public safety and violating privacy,” said Xue.
Beyond public safety, China also realizes that the transformative power of AI is significant in terms of economic output, and the country is keen on gaining the first-movers’ advantage.
A couple of decades ago, the country was slow to industrialize relative to the Western countries and regional neighbors such as Japan and South Korea. It is not willing to let that happen again, specifically given the vast amount of data the country sits on, which is crucial to the accelerated growth of AI.
AI-based solutions are capable of increasing productivity in hyper-industrialized China, transform businesses, and turbocharge the country’s economic development objectives.
Two years ago, China announced its ambitions to become the world leader in AI technology by 2030, with a local AI industry worth up to US$150 billion.
Subsequently, the government brought in many of the country’s tech titans such as Baidu, Tencent, and iFlyTek to develop the technology.
In the coming months, great developments in the AI space are expected from China — with the state taking adequate precautions to protect and safeguard its citizens against risks.
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