We can chat all we like about human biases creating AI biases with our Western cultural ideology, but if there is going to be anything like an AI bias council, it should probably be held in Beijing, Shanghai, or Shenzhen. Chinese cultural and political norms are going to have a much bigger influence over AI bias than anything we do here in America.
I spend quite a bit of time working with multinational corporations that operate in the Asia-Pacific region. This past week, I got to spend some quality time with Chinese colleagues working on the most cutting-edge AI systems that I have ever seen in action. The data sets are astronomical, the access to data is unfettered, the population is practically 100 percent mobile-only, and the competition is so fierce that only the very best systems have a chance.
Imagine if you had every data point about everyone, and you had the ability to turn that data into action. You walk to a street corner, and your phone knows exactly where you are, what you are looking for, and where to direct you. No ads, just information you need when you need it. Then, you do the transaction and pay with your phone, get your ride-share with your phone, give a homeless person a donation with your phone. Keep imagining, and you still won’t get to where China is today, let alone where it’s headed. (By the way, the government sees 100 percent of the data that you get to analyze. But that’s for another article.)
Europe enacted its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to prevent what’s happening in China. The U.S. government has called Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and other tech companies to testify before Congress so that America can figure out how to enact its own version of GDPR. While Europe and America compare notes about what data privacy may or may not mean, in Shanghai, what I have described above is about 5 percent of what people can do with Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent apps installed on their smartphones. We’re talking about it; China is doing it.
Yes, there are still two Chinas: the new China with bright shining (though smoggy) cities and amazing tech, and the countryside where some communities don’t have electricity or running water. This is, of course, simplistic and leaves aside real and persistent human rights issues in that country. Still, on balance, the tech in China—and its path to the future as a result of China’s data policies—will make it just about impossible for America to catch up, let alone compete.
Collaboration, not competition
We need to reframe the China-versus-America conflict to what it really is: human beings (all human beings) planning for a future where tools not only think, but they make decisions that will impact how we (all of us humans) spend our days.
We can learn to work together. My friends and colleagues in China are productivity machines. They work incessantly. Not only do they work hard, but they also work smart. It is humbling.
AI, obviously, is already changing everything. The technology is going to affect everyone. So, before we get into an economically devastating game of dueling AI, let’s put our own biases aside and get some multinational, cross-cultural, cross-industry councils together to chat about how humans should treat humans, how humans should treat machines, and topically, how machines should treat humans.
Shelly Palmer is CEO of The Palmer Group, a strategic advisory and business development practice.