Democracy on the Precipice Through AI Threat
As China’s technological tentacles reach ever further around the globe, the threats of its artificial intelligence developments could create technological breaches that homeland security agencies in the West may not sleep well knowing
Recent information that The National Defense Technology University of China’s partnership with Microsoft to initiate further developments in artificial intelligence (AI) has frightened some politicians in the US. Outcries by two leading US senators on the technology giants move are seen as a threat to the national security of the United States.
With the improvement and augmentation of AI systems gaining traction constantly, experts in the field see it endangering people’s freedoms online. As states become more aligned with the developments in AI technology, there is a very real threat world governments — seeing it as a convenient way to control their citizens’ every move — will implement such systems for their convenience.
Freedom of Speech Crackdowns
For those traditional western democracies used to the rule of law and freedom of speech, the ability to track and monitor people’s lives is clearly objectionable. And for those countries with a bad track record in regard to citizens freedom and human rights abuses, any potential threat to strengthen these institutions’ grip on power through the use of AI technologies will only make it worse for the people living there. Further repression and draconian surveillance is one thing it guarantees.
Already in China’s troubled Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with its Muslim majority population in the country’s far west, Beijing has implemented state-of-the-art surveillance and tracking techniques on the people’s smartphones and everyday movements. The repression, nonetheless, if not curbed could fester further resentment of the province’s population and lead to an escalation in ethnic, as well as religious, violence.
In Tibet, too, Beijing’s tactics are of a similar vein.
All in all, scores of countries across the globe are using Chinese AI systems to good effect to both monitor and repress ethnic minority groups and political opponents within their borders. In Kenya. In Bangladesh. Even in Erdogan’s Turkey. Ingeniously, the Chinese government is exporting this technology as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, where Beijing funds construction projects such as road building, energy pipelines and telecommunications projects to some of the world’s poorest countries.
It is no surprise these states all have abysmal human rights’ records.
More concerns grow as ZTE and Huawei, giants in the Chinese tech world, are at present building smart cities in countries such as Pakistan and the Philippines. In these self-styled ‘smart cities’, they intend to install high-end surveillance equipment with data analytics to supervise traffic flow and to uncover criminal activity on the streets by using state-of-the-art cameras.
Zimbabwe — wracked by hardship and government repression for decades, and following the signing of a multibillion-dollar mining deal with Chinese company Tsingshan — is creating a ‘national image’ database that can be used for facial recognition in partnership with CloudWalk, another Chinese tech company which specializes in facial recognition software.
Bad news for those opponents used to the repression under former president Robert Mugabe, which current Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnangagwa seems to be emulating to the best of his abilities.
Draconian measures to those in the west who value freedom, but a cure-all solution for governments with a repressive bent that wish to keep tabs on the habits of their citizens.
Scaremongers in the West see Microsoft’s partnership with the Chinese university as Xi Jinping’s chance to mushroom his country’s current AI technology to other parts of the world. A fear which democracies detect as being China’s chance to further disrupt their fight against politically orientated cybercrime.
Whether or not Beijing’s intention is to sell technology for simply profit or to gain a foothold in the geopolitical sphere through the slow and systematic dispersion of its AI technology is anyone’s guess. Either way, and unfortunately for the West, it seems to mean those countries adopting the AI technology are opening themselves up to complete dependence on the Chinese AI systems, which once fully integrated into the life of the people and the country’s infrastructure, could spread misinformation, fake news, mock-up videos and audio tracks called ‘deepfake’ that are as credible as real events.
A real Huxleyan nightmare of brave-new-world proportions.
Not a good solution for those in Washington paranoid about homeland security and foreign policy issues.
The US government, however, is using this same AI technology to counteract the threat.
Yet it’s a race to the top. And who the winner will be is still open to debate.
Your Hands Are Dirty Too
But there are always two sides to every story: Supporters of China’s policy consider American companies just as guilty of selling their technology to the highest foreign bidder in the past, with Beijing accusing Cisco and Microsoft - two of the biggest global technology companies - of underhanded tactics in the spreading of their services abroad to nefarious autocratic states.
5G Expansion to Old Blighty
With the recent news the UK government has agreed upon a deal of adopting Huawei’s technology for its 5G network infrastructure, it is important for policymakers in countries with a tradition of democratic thought to think long and hard before using China’s innovations — be them in AI, computer vision, 5G advanced wireless systems or any other technological advancements for that matter — as they could, quite possibly, create a scenario of master and slave.
And who wants that?
Certainly nobody who values their freedom.