Genocide of Uyghur Muslims Shows Why China Must Not Lead the World in AI

China Tech Threat’s Future of BIS project came out with a new paper earlier this week: “Build an AI Workforce at BIS to Strengthen Controls and Stop Illicit Acquisition of American Artificial Intelligence Technologies.”

AI is an important technology. Countries which can execute AI effectively will seize leadership in military and commercial domains.

Sadly, China has already demonstrated the power to develop and use AI in nefarious ways that should cause the U.S. national security community to act now to ensure China does not gain an insurmountable lead.

Take western China, where the U.S. State Department has determined that the Chinese government is carrying out a genocide against Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Part of the reason China has been so effective in its mass persecution is the use of AI-powered facial recognition technologies and other surveillance tools. The New York Times has reported that “The facial recognition technology, which is integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras, looks exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review. The practice makes the PRC a pioneer in applying next-generation technology to watch its people, potentially ushering in a new era of automated racism.”

Similarly, in 2021, an engineer who had helped install AI-powered emotion detection cameras in police stations in Xinjiang province told the BBC that “The Chinese government use Uyghurs as test subjects for various experiments just like rats are used in laboratories. We placed the emotion detection camera 3m from the subject. It is similar to a lie detector but far more advanced technology.”

The Chinese military is also making strides to integrate military technologies into its weaponry, thus threatening preeminence of the American military. According to a Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) report titled “Harnessed Lightning: How the Chinese Military is Adopting Artificial Intelligence,” released in October 2021, the PLA spends more than $1.6 billion each year on AI-related systems and equipment. CSET went on to note that, based on an analysis of 343 PLA contracts with AI firms, the PLA seems most focused on procuring AI for intelligence analysis, predictive maintenance, information warfare, and navigation and target recognition in autonomous vehicles. Joseph Trevithick reported that Chinese pilots have faced off against AI-powered combat systems in simulations and lost.

But it need not be a China-based military threat that compromises American national security and freedoms. TikTok, whose parent company, ByteDance, is based in China, hooks users through its algorithm-driven presentation of short videos. With an estimated 80 million Americans currently using TikTok, the likely effect is that the Chinese government is vacuuming up user data which it can use to assign every user a social credit score. As described by Cybersecurity for Dummies author Joe Steinberg at a March 2022 China Tech Threat discussion, using TikTok will likely even give the PRC an opening to compromise any young adult who will grow up to become President of the United States: “They’re going to know every possible detail to blackmail them.”

So what should the U.S. do to stop China from acquiring artificial intelligence technologies developed on our shores? Standby for our next blog post with recommendations.

Read the full report to learn more.