Before there was a pandemic, the US was already making moves to get Western Countries to move away from China, at least on AI. In late February, US Deputy Chief Technology Officer Lynn Parker traveled to Paris to meet with other government officials at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to spread the word that it was high time for the West to work together to beat China at writing the rules for AI.
Parker’s objectives apparently came as a surprise to others. Two years ago, Donald Trump’s White House had rejected a similar pitch by France and Canada during a G7 meeting, arguing that international rules for AI would hamper innovation.
So, what has brought about this change in attitude from the US? The answer it would seem comes down to how alarmed US policymakers and tech executives have become at China’s blatant ambitions to become a world leader in AI. Beijing has poured billions into research and development of AI, it is also reportedly using this AI to create an all seeing surveillance state. And with China’s tech giants exporting their technology around the globe, it has become apparent that China wants its ideas to become the international standard.
This combined with the growing fear of Chinese dominance, prompted the White House to reconsider its position on AI rules and regulations, with the main position being that Western companies should be at the forefront of developing AI, rather than Beijing.
In June 2020, the US signed onto an amended version of the original G7 pitch, which announced that all G7 members alongside Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Mexico, India, Slovenia and the EU would launch an alliance entitled the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to aid in the development of AI. The idea being to do it in a manner consistent with ‘Western Values’ which essentially meant doing it differently to how China was doing it.
One thing that must be noted is that AI is drastically changing societies across the world, the new alliance alongside the OECD have emerged as key arenas for the US, Europe and other Western countries to try and come up with global standards for AI. But first the US and Europe must see eye to eye, something which isn’t a given. They agree on what they don’t want-an Orwellian surveillance apparatus powered by AI- but they are unable to truly agree on what it is they do want.
The EU is home to stringent privacy laws and wants to become a leader in ‘trustworthy AI’ and plans to release the world’s first laws for AI, early next year. Brussels hopes this will protect Europeans against abuse and boost consumer trust in European AI, whilst giving the industry a competitive long term advantage.
On the other hand, the US considers the EU’s approach to be heavy handed and innovation killing, a position that echoes the views of its own tech industry. For instance, Google’s feedback to the EU on the first draft of its proposed laws, was that too many new rules would weaken Europe’s position with global competitors.
The job of the alliance will be to bring these two competing views together.
Of course, there are a whole host of issues surrounding AI, and it is not exempt from human bias. So, how this alliance works together to ensure that AI is developed fairly and ethically will be the big test, especially with all sides wanting to ensure their industries are the world leaders.
In an attempt to handle these competing interests and influences, the West has enabled the OECD to issue its own set of guidelines for the use and deployment of AI. Additionally, the organisation launched an initiative in February to monitor and develop best practices governing AI.