As more and more people take to the internet to share their sentiments about their personal lives, their government, and the issues that concern them, it is easy to believe that the world is becoming democratized. After all, through the internet (particularly in social media), it has become so much easier for people to connect directly to their government representatives as well as corporate leaders, to relay their concerns.
What people do not realize is that the freedom of expression we are currently experiencing is nothing more than a farce. In areas that matter to the public (such as in the spread of news about data leaks, or about dissent against government policies) the internet is highly regulated and censored, while companies such as Facebook and Google enjoy unlimited access and utility to users’ data. This is the reason why several tech experts have been calling for governments (particularly the US) to introduce tighter regulation of the internet [read The World Needs A Bill Of Data Rights].
But Internet in China is a whole new story. In this article written by Malek Murison for the Internet of Business, we are introduced to the world beyond the Great Firewall, where machine learning (ML) algorithms are being deployed to regulate data online and systematically stifle free speech. While other countries still strive to provide their citizens with a sense of freedom by enabling them to visit any site they wish, in China, some of the more popular sites – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc – are blocked [In 2010, Google left China because of the government’s invasive methods at controlling information exchange within the country. Read Google Wants To Return To China, But Not Everyone In The Company Is Happy to get an idea on the extent the Chinese government will go through to control the Internet]. The country also employs a team of social influencers to help “guide” public sentiment in issues that are highly political and contentious. It will also not hesitate to arrest anyone who express discontent with government policies.
Censorship used to be a simple endeavor because the government needed only to coordinate with media outlets to prevent (or in some cases, convince) them from running a story. But with the Internet, censorship has become more complicated. To ensure that their carefully designed society is not disrupted by information found on the Web, the Chinese government has started utilizing AI for this process. Aside from monitoring content, the Chinese government is also using AI to create a social profile of its citizens as well as actively monitor the whereabouts and activities of each individual (especially those living within its borders). As Chinese AI continues to improve, the ultimate goal is to be able to control the entire World Wide Web [see article China Bares Its AI Development Plan].
Why It Matters
In 2018, China has made it a national priority to become the world’s primary AI innovation center. Its motivations, however, are far from charitable. While some AI development are used to improve the lives of its people, a number of AI technologies within China are used to improve surveillance and censorship. Though China had no role in launching the AI revolution, it is definitely catching up, as some of the world’s fastest supercomputers have been developed by Chinese companies whose research has been funded by the government.
If China succeeds in becoming the first country to develop general intelligence, and a reliable automated weaponry, then, as Putin has predicted, they will dominate the world. And if China dominates the world, we can expect the world to experience the very same policies that are being implemented within the country’s borders. In fact, in just the last decade, there have been many instances when China has been reported to impinge on the sovereignity of other countries (examples of which are China’s move to develop Paracel, Spratlys, and Sensaku Islands, despite these being rightfully owned by other countries). The country has shown that it is ready to dominate other countries, with just pure firepower. Imagine what they can do with AI.
But Chinese domination is not the whole point of this article. More alarming than China’s intentions is the fact that many nations are not making a stand on surveillance and censorship. In fact, many are following in the Chinese footsteps. Instead of focusing on the development of AI for the economic and social benefit of its citizens, some countries, like the United States, have made it a priority to develop AI for securing its boundaries. This means that AI research for social purposes is led by big businesses.
From this alone, it becomes clear that there is another force driving AI development, and that the promise of greater human freedom, of freeing human minds for more creative and fulfilling tasks, is really in the back burner. Only when we begin to analyze and integrate all these information will we be able to discover the reality. Now that we know this, what is our next move? Will there be enough people to push for a truly ethical AI, or are there more people who have been convinced by the farce?
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