Pacific Dialogue
Rules or barriers?
By Liang Xiao  ·  2023-11-20  ·   Source: NO.47 NOVEMBER 23, 2023

Eighty-one years ago, American sci-fi novelist Isaac Asimov came up with the famous Three Laws of Robotics in his novel Runaround, revealing humans' vigilance against the future development of science. When I, Robot was released in 2004, people still treated the theme of artificial intelligence (AI) safety as a science fiction topic. Now, that fiction is becoming reality. The question is: Who should be the rule-makers of the future AI world in real life?

On November 1, representatives from 28 countries met at Bletchley Manor in Milton Keynes, the United Kingdom, and jointly reached the Bletchley Declaration, which aims to lay the foundation for global AI cooperation by establishing jointly agreed-upon methods of supervision.

The release signaled not only the need to urgently evolve principles into functional policies and governance, but also that without unprecedented multilateral commitment involved, it would be impossible to ensure the safe and beneficial development of AI well into the future.

In June, discussions began among Western nations as to whether China should be invited to participate in this first-ever Global AI Safety Summit in the UK. The decision to invite China to participate in the summit was made by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Some voices in British politics and the wider Western world believe that only countries with "democratic values" that subscribe to Western values and political systems should be allowed to participate in leading the development of AI. China hawks, led by former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, also oppose China's participation in AI legislative supervision. But for the UK, which is striving to become an AI world leader, if Russia is excluded and Chinese representatives are also absent, then obviously the summit will be greatly reduced in value. For these reasons, the British Government invited China to participate only in the first day of discussions at the summit.

Almost all of the countries invited to attend the second day's event are considered "like-minded" by the UK and the United States. However, doubts were raised about this selection of participants, with the host boasting participation by developing countries from Africa and Asia, but with critics claiming these countries were not really listened to. At the same time, there are criticisms that the mere 100 delegates attending the summit were insufficient to represent the whole world.

Although it is undeniable that both the summit and the declaration are landmarks in AI governance, if the summit aimed only to issue a statement and snap a group photo without consideration of whether the consensus reached can be translated into practical action, then its outcomes will obviously not satisfy all stakeholders.

For most of us today, the idea in I, Robot that AI will one day rebel against humanity still seems like a sci-fi plot. A more realistic consideration is, if those countries and companies that have achieved a lead in the field of AI try to maintain their advantages by setting the rules, it will deprive the Global South of a level playing field in the technological competition that is likely to change the existing and future international political and economic landscape.

In 2022, the number of AI companies in China exceeded 4,300. The value of the industry was higher than $69 billion and more than 2,500 digital workshops and smart factories making use of AI are now up and running. As Chinese Ambassador to the UK Zheng Zeguang wrote in an article published in the Sunday Times on November 11, "As part of the country's drive to build a modern industrial system, we have a large and increasingly urgent demand for the deep integration of AI into industry. This also provides a broad canvas for its innovation and uses."

Precisely because China has a strong industrial foundation, it has huge advantages in the industrialization of AI that most developed countries cannot replicate. The U.S.-led alliance continues to place export bans on their own chip companies and prohibit the sale of advanced AI chips to Chinese technology companies. But the effect so far has not been significant. However, the targeting of China in the future formulation of global AI regulations by Western nations is a strong possibility.

On the other hand, China has always regarded itself as a responsible representative of developing countries. Wu Zhaohui, China's Vice Minister of Science and Technology, said at the opening session of the Global AI Safety Summit that "countries, regardless of their size and scale, have equal rights to develop and use AI." On October 18,

China released the Global AI Governance Initiative during the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, and pledged to increase the representation and voice of developing countries and support discussions within the United Nations about establishing an international AI governance institution.

The reason why China insists on making its voice heard is its eagerness to participate in establishing a more equal order, whether in global governance or in the future plans for AI.

Today's world basically still follows rich countries' rule with conflicts and wars bursting out almost everyday. When blueprinting a new one, both rich and poor should have a say. 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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