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Cooperation on AI urged by US expert

By Zhao Huanxin in Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-13 23:59

Artificial intelligence may increase the stress on US-China relations, but there is a bigger picture that should not be ignored: potential opportunities for cooperation, as both countries are navigating the frontier of technology, a senior researcher said on Tuesday.

"Technology really is at the core of US-China competition right now, and it's only going to intensify, but looking at AI as solely an accelerant of rivalry or tension, I think would be missing the big picture," said Ryan Hass, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

The policy challenge the United States faces is "finding ways to separate or desegregate the areas of friction being caused by AI from the areas of opportunity for cooperation from which both sides would benefit", Hass said at a discussion on how China and the US are advancing artificial intelligence at the Brookings on Tuesday.

Whether it is in military, trade, politics or social areas, there is great necessity for both countries to ramp up exchange and collaboration, he said at the panel discussion.

In the military area, artificial intelligence could increase the risk of escalation between United States and China, which presents dangers for both countries, according to Hass.

"Hopefully it will incentivize or motivate both countries to come together to think about rules of the road for how to manage AI in the context of military rivalry," he said.

About the impact of artificial intelligence in the trade area, Hass said he worried that it could lead to bifurcated global systems that are not interoperable.

"I think we're already seeing this competition playing out with 5G technology — the countries that are willing to accept Huawei technologies versus those that aren't," he said. "That could be just a leading indicator of a broader trend."

Hass said both the United States and China are navigating the frontier of technology together and hopefully they will both be able to learn from each other and share best practices so that they each find ways to improve the ability of artificial intelligence technologies to improve the lives of American and Chinese citizens.

"On top of that, both societies are going to be navigating how to deal with all the impacts, all the disruptions that are caused by artificial intelligence, and again, I hope this is a space where both countries can learn from each other as they go forward," he said.

To get an appreciation of how serious the disruptions are, a recent PwC report said that AI and related technologies, such as robots, drones and autonomous vehicles could displace around 26 percent of existing jobs in China over the next two decades. A similar story applies to the US.

"The United States and China have attributes when it comes to artificial intelligence that are just not replicable in any other country in the world," Hass said, adding that of all the AI-driven companies in the world, 50 percent are in the United States, and a third, in China.

In a paper "US-China relations in the age of artificial intelligence" published in early January, Hass and his colleague Zach Balin said that while it is fair to say the US and China are competing against each other, the larger truth is that both countries also are navigating the frontier of innovation simultaneously.

"This is where a purely competitive zero-sum framing does a disservice to both," they wrote. "When every step forward by one is viewed as a setback for the other, there is disincentive to coordinate on shared challenges or be open to learning from the other's experiences."

On Tuesday, Hass also said he believed competitive interdependence featured a new chapter of China-US relations. "There should be guard rails around competition because if it were to veer out of control, it would do self-harm to both countries," he said.

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