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Communication & Technology

Is US-China ‘AI Cold War’ happening?


Google’s AI machine AlphaGo beat Go world champion Ke Jie in the first two games in the three-part match in May 2017. (photo from Medium)

“The AI Cold War that could doom us all” is a long Oct 23 essay published by WIRED, a Hi-Tech website. It begins with the stories that the artificial intelligence system AlphaGo, developed by Alphabet which is the parent company of Google, defeated a world champion Go player in 2016 and then another champion in 2017.

It says that “China tapped Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and iFlytek, a Chinese voice-recognition software company, as the inaugural members of its AI National Team …… During the original Cold War, the US relied on companies like Lockheed, Northrop, and Raytheon to develop cutting-edge strategic technology … their vital defense mission made them quasipublic entities …”

Furthermore, owing to the trade war and the fight over intellectual property, a wall separating the two nations is building up. “… A new cold war that gradually isolates the Chinese and American tech sectors from each other … would increase the risk that one side could surprise the other with a decisive breakthrough in AI or quantum computing …”

Although the author hopes that the two countries would cooperate, he is worried that “… conflicting goals, mutual suspicion, and a growing conviction that AI and other advanced technologies are a winner-take-all game (and) are pushing the two countries’ tech sectors further apart …”

I disagree, for at least two reasons.

First, so long as AI remains mastered by humans, it will be the humans who determine war or peace. AI, like all other machines and weapons are tools. Simply speaking, in case the US and China were at war, the first round of strikes would have shot down each other’s satellites, bombarded the optic fiber cables under the oceans, and destroyed the power plants (coal, fuel, hydroelectric etc), thus weakening each other’s communication capabilities.

When superpowers are at war again, are you so naïve that you still have access to internet? Read the history books about how London went through the German bombing during WWII, and do not forget that during the Korean War, the US destroyed almost all water dams in North Korea …… The AI machines etc would be handicapped here and there.

The military generals may make use of AI to run some simulation models or operate some drones etc, but never rely on AI to command or fight. Therefore, President Trump is again smart to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which banned development of 500-5,500 km missiles!

If it were the AI to mastermind humans, we would have had a very different story.

Second, AI will be mainly developed for and applied mostly on livelihood, ranging from driver-less vehicles (cars,trucks, airplanes, vessels), manufacturing processes, wholesale and retail services, logistics and deliveries …… etc. It will be market-oriented, and therefore the customers will determine who wins, who loses.

Competition of any kind, be it co-operative like IEEE, or exclusive type like GSM-vs-CDMA, or HD-vs-BlueRay etc, will end up streamlining in the global market. Let all nations compete and they will improve our quality of living.

Do not confuse competition with ‘cold war’, they are two very different concepts.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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