Time and time again, I have seen The Wall Street Journal explain that the reason Russia and China are so together and are such a big threat to us is that they have the luxury of being totalitarian dictatorships that can get ‘er done without the fussy inconvenience of individual liberty or consensual government. Well, the Journal is at it again, but this time they are behind the times…the CIA’s InQTel venture capital firm is ALL OVER AI! (Who’s the authoritarian dictatorship now, huh?)
Here’s the article from yesterday’s Journal that triggered me…the title in the print edition was merely, Authoritarianism Is China’s Edge in AI–but they really spoonfeed it to you right up top on-line which included an in-your-face subtitle:
China’s Authoritarian State Has an Edge in Artificial Intelligence Development
A wealthy repressive state can press ahead with tech innovation unimpeded by privacy concerns
Beijing is bankrolling a big effort in AI, in part, to keep better track of homegrown individuals it considers criminals and dissidents, and to intimidate would-be opponents. That work involves fundamental research in image recognition, data collection and sorting that could have commercial spinoffs in the software used to run complex systems. A city with millions of self-driving cars, for instance, would need data analysis and the ability to recognize, say, that a ball bouncing across the street might be followed by a child chasing it.
“What gives China an edge is there is more of a sense of urgency,” says Paul Triolo, a technology research manager at Eurasia Group.
There’s for sure a sense of urgency here, but with that flare for democracy our media and government like to deliver it with. From easing us into a driverless world with DoD-generated technology and local governments mysteriously allowing tech-driven ride hailing services to destroy the taxi industry even in cities where gypsy cabs have been trying and failing for decades to do that very thing, to the next big story–an inexplicable rise in automobile deaths followed by shrill and panicked calls for zero tolerance for same. Urgency is building. And on top of it all, the infrastructure plan Obama could not get done, Trump will deliver, rest assured. #ItWillTakeARepublican. And finally, it’s all crap because InQTel is positively steaming ahead with AI, surveillance tech, etc., just like the vaunted Chinese Authoritarian State, so spare me, please.
Among the most innovative—and threatening—of the Chinese research involves surveillance. The Wall Street Journal has detailed how Beijing has turned its western Xinjiang region into a warren of facial scanners to track millions of Uighur minorities. Police there use hand-held devices to search smartphones for encrypted chat apps. A new twist: mobile facial-recognition units mounted on eyeglasses that police use to search crowds for fugitives, among other uses.
Artificial intelligence works by the collection of vast amounts of data used to “train” computer software to recognize patterns and reach conclusions, precisely the kind of skills needed to track a small number of dissidents among a sea of Chinese faces.
“A repressive state can be an engine of innovation,” says Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech policy center.
Oh, wow! I never thought of it like that! Repression is good. Yes, I get it now!
(Sorry, I actually don’t like sarcasm, but like I said, they’re triggering me!)
Seriously though, I have documented the Journal‘s coverage of the Chinese Police State and it scares me–they always throw in how much safer those people will be, in a “just sayin'” kind of way. (Don’t believe me? Reread the first line I quote from this article above.) But the facial recognition police goggles are a new one and sadly validate my prediction that the push for cop cams here are really for this purpose–facial recognition to be used at political events–not for the #MeTooers and the Pussy Hats but for those who try mightily to defend our foundational and inherent liberties.
AI may be different, say U.S. technology researchers. China’s AI effort is being joined by globally competitive internet powerhouses including Tencent Holdings Ltd. , which is focused on medical imaging, and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , which wants to help create smart cities that use sensors, cameras and computers to manage traffic. So far, the government is following their lead in technology development, AI researchers say, whatever the goals laid out in the government plan.
This smart cities thing is coming down–just read the latest from the World Economic Forum (the Davos people), or check out the Strong Cities Initiative or any other UN project aimed to bring localities into direct connection with the world government they are openly working toward–preferably a repressive authoritarian one, sounds like.
Chinese researchers may not have political freedom, they say, but they have the economic freedom to chart their own course. And the Chinese government doesn’t throw up roadblocks to the technology on the grounds of privacy, as occurs in the West.
“Freedom is very important,” says [Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Erik] Brynjolfsson. “But there is more freedom in China to do startups than most people realize.”…
[S]ays Loren Graham, an emeritus MIT science historian….“Can a country like China with lots of money combine repression, creativity and economic success based on that creativity? If the answer is yes, then we will have to rethink everything.”
I guess the message is, freedom is all in how you define it. Maybe for Messrs. Brynjolfsson and Graham, startup macht frei.