Plus, Perceptions of Chinese AI Policy and the "Other Family's Kid" Phenomenon
Greetings from a world where…
this whole being a professor thing is starting to feel real
…As always, the searchable archive of all past issues is here. Please please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay support access for all AND compensation for awesome ChinAI contributors).
Feature Translation: How Qianxun uses BeiDou Satellite Data to Spatiotemporal Intelligence
Context: Positioned as an alternative to Europe’s Galileo positioning system and the U.S.’s GPS, the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System is China’s satellite navigation system. In China’s recent Five-Year Plan, the section on promoting advanced technology heavily pushes the need to enhance industrial applications of the BeiDou system. In 2015, a state-owned defense corporation and Alibaba co-founded Qianxun Spatial Intelligence to promote use cases for the BeiDou system. This week’s feature translation, a Leiphone article, digs into Qianxun’s approach. It reads a little too much like PR-speak than articles I usually like to translate, but it was interesting to learn more about spatiotemporal intelligence.
Key Takeaways: Qianxun’s bet is that BeiDou will play a key role in China’s digital transformation
Qianxun’s CEO stated in an interview: “Although Beidou is difficult to perceive, it has actually been integrated into everyone’s lives. Today's Beidou is not only in your mobile phone, car, and shared bicycle, but also in the high tide that is the construction of digital China.”
One example: a Qianxun program in Suichang County, Zhejiang, that aims to promote sustainable development by inspecting water quality at Xianxia Lake:
Because there are few local professional pilots, [Qianxun technicians] designed an automated solution for autonomous drone take-off and landing inspections, and spent three months developing and validating AI algorithms to quickly detect surface garbage and eutrophication of water bodies.
Qianxun plays up the importance of its independent and controllable technology: “Key core technologies cannot be bought or purchased,” Qianxun’s CEO regards a strong spatiotemporal intelligence platform as essential to a “fight to the death” for independent control of technology.
Ensuring the security of location and trajectory data is especially important for “strategic industries such as railways, highways, airports, ports, water conservation, and municipal services.”
For instance, Qianxun has certifications at level 3 of the Ministry of Public Security’s MLPS process. At that level, if an information system is damaged, it “results in serious harm to social order and public interest, and will harm national security.”
A good example of looking under the hood of “China is the Saudia Arabia of data” rhetoric: The Shanghai Data Exchange (SDE)
One detail I noted from the article was that one of Qianxun’s services (FindCM) is listed on the SDE, which is a quasi-governmental market for trading data products
From Cooley legal: “We expect that the SDE will mostly be used by state-owned enterprises, public utility companies, and major technology, media and telecommunications companies, with limited opportunities for emerging and non-PRC companies”
ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)
I really enjoyed reading through Jack’s hot take thread, and I think it was a great and valuable exercise (hence, the must-read rec). I do want to reflect on one of his China-related takes, and make a broader point about how the “Other Family’s Kid” [bierenjia de haizi\别人家的孩子] phenomenon relates to Western perceptions of Chinese AI policy.
Jack, co-founder of Anthropic and former policy director at OpenAI, writes: “China has a much more well-developed AI policy approach than that in Europe and the United States. China is actually surprisingly good at regulating things around, say, synthetic media.” It’s actually not an uncommon take. Of the policymakers I talk to and hear from, I would say that at least a plurality would agree with Jack’s take (though many might emphasize techno-industrial policy rather than regulation).
If you grew up with Chinese parents, you probably got used to hearing about that Other Family’s Kid. Look at how well that Other Family’s Kid is doing. The “why aren’t you doing better?” was left implicit. If you were Chinese American, that other kid was probably doing really well at piano and math.
The “Other Family’s Kid” phenomenon can help us unpack Jack’s take about China’s “much more well-developed AI policy approach,” in particular on regulating synthetic media. It’s actually not all that surprising that China has been aggressive about regulating deepfakes. As Emmie Hine and Luciano Floridi have convincingly laid out, China’s deepfake approach is a product of less free speech protections, a longstanding history of enforcing real-name verification, and a political system that is much more dependent on maintaining strict control over Internet content. That other family’s kid is not better than your kid. They’re just different kids. And, at the risk of taking the analogy too far, in this case, that other kid is a product of some really messed up family dynamics.
Should-read: Special Competitive Studies Project’s newsletter
I gained a lot insight from catching up on issues of the SCSP’s “2-2-2” newsletter over this past week. The SCSP team expertly contextualizes key topics in U.S. technology policy with both historical precedents and cross-country comparisons. SCSP is a nonprofit that aims to improve U.S. technological competitiveness.
Luz Ding, for SupChina, has a great backgrounder on Qianxun. Includes details on Qianxun’s provision of navigation services to other Chinese tech companies, as well as the possibility that it could become a target of U.S. government scrutiny. Barry van Wyk’s SupChina post also helped shape this issue’s analysis of Qianxun.
Should-read: A Survey of the Potential Long-term Impacts of AI
For the Conference on AI, Ethics, and Society, Sam Clarke and Jess Whittelstone analyze “how AI could lead to long-term chances in science, cooperation, power, epistemics, and values. We review the state of existing research in each of these areas and highlight priority questions for future research.”
Thank you for reading and engaging.
These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.
Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).
Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jjding99