ChinAI #136: China's Tech Industry and Carbon Neutrality

Plus, Working in National Security While Asian

Greetings from a world where…

the Hawkeyes are still dancing

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Feature Translation: China’s Tech Industry and Carbon Neutrality

Context: Last week, Leiphone published a fascinating piece on state-of-play re: China’s tech industry and the momentum toward carbon neutrality (碳中和). Many Chinese media have proclaimed 2021 to be the “first year of the carbon neutral era;” the government work report released at the Two Sessions included carbon neutrality for the first time.

Key Takeaways:

  • According to a reports by Tianfeng Securities Research Institute and Greenpeace, the tech industry’s carbon emissions have continued to rise in recent years. Specifically, it ranks high in terms of Scope 3 emissions, which are indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain. By 2040, the information communications technology (ICT) industry is expected to account for more than 14 percent of global greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions.

  • Data centers were responsible for 87% of Tencent’s carbon emissions, and as a whole, China’s data centers consumed 2% of the country’s total electricity usage in 2018.

  • After reviewing commitments by U.S. tech giants, the piece states that Chinese tech companies lag behind in terms of clear timetables to reach carbon neutrality, though some have made notable moves. These include: Ant Group’s recently announced goal of net-zero emissions by 2030, Alibaba and Tencent’s use of liquid cooling tech to reduce heat emissions in data centers, and Baidu’s use of photovoltaic cells to power its data centers.

  • Given the significant environmental costs of training large AI models, this is definitely an area to track for the future. Announcements are nice, but transparent, verifiable action is better. As of a January 2021 Greenpeace report (in Mandarin), Chindata Group (秦淮数据) was the only Chinese firm that had committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by an end date.

ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)

Should-read: Asian Americans at State Department confront discrimination

Ryan Heath for Politico on assignment restrictions for Asian American diplomats:

One former diplomat subject to restrictions was Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), a Korean-American born in Boston who told MSNBC Wednesday that even though he had ‘top secret security clearance’ and had served in Afghanistan, “One day I was told by the State Department that I was banned from working on anything related to the Korean Peninsula.”

Kim said he was shocked because he had never applied to work on any issues related to the Korean Peninsula. He labeled the decision xenophobic and said that what hurt most was “this feeling that my country didn’t trust me.”

A statement signed by over 100 Asian Americans working in national security and diplomacy, argued Thursday that the increasing U.S. focus on competition with China, has exacerbated “discrimination, and blatant accusations of disloyalty simply because of the way we look.”

Related: see Amy Chang’s Twitter thread sharing her personal experience as an Asian American women working on U.S.-China relations:

Should-read: Key Concepts in AI Safety

The first in CSET’s series on “AI safety” by Tim Rudner and Helen Toner, which goes over how to develop machine learning systems in a safe and reliable way. They introduce some key concepts, including specification, which refers to “defining a system’s goal in a way that ensures its behavior aligns with the human operator’s intentions.”

Should-read: The AI Wolf Refuses to Play the Game (Mandarin)

Speaking of misspecified AI systems, a funny (and slightly disturbing) example that went viral last week, as reported by xinzhiyuan (AI Era): researchers had set up a wolf vs. sheep game. Instead of trying to eat as many sheep as possible, which was the intent of the game, the wolf chose to run into a rock and kill itself because that somehow gave more points than not catching any sheep.

Should-read: China sours on facial recognition tech

For Protocol, Zeyi Yang covers a 10-minute investigative segment aired on the CCTV annual consumer rights gala, which “revealed that facial recognition security cameras located at chain stores nationwide have been picking up shoppers' personal information without their knowledge or consent. The revelations ignited a furious backlash against the companies. . . It's another instance of grassroots pushback against surveillance tech in China, a global leader in surveillance research as well as in deployment. The central irony went unremarked: that Beijing has become both the critic and perpetrator of mass surveillance.

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 a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

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 chinainewsletter@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jjding99