Discover more from ChinAI Newsletter
ChinAI #194: Jin Canrong on the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Plus, Jin's notable takes on controlling AI and U.S.-China tech competition
Greetings from a world where…
Rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender will never get old
…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: Jin Canrong on U.S.-China competition in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Context: In Rush Doshi’s excellent book on China’s goals in world politics, he quotes from an essay by Jin Canrong, a prominent Chinese international relations scholar and Associate Dean at Renmin University. It was originally published in July 2019 in The Forum of Leadership Science, a Chinese journal. Here, Jin interprets President Xi Jinping’s proclamations at a summit of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) nations in 2018, where Xi talked about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and “great changes unseen in a century” [百年未有之大变局]. The speech also caught my eye because Jin talks about the dangers of AI.
Key Takeaways: Western nations have taken advantage of previous industrial revolutions to attain productivity leadership. Jin interprets Xi’s comments at the BRICS summit about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR-4) as “a huge historic opportunity” that China could seize and possibly lead.
According to Jin, these are the five directions that “the American scientific community believes” will drive the IR-4: new materials (specifically graphene), genetic engineering, AI, quantum science, and nuclear fusion.
Jin emphasized Xi’s proposal for a BRICS partnership on the IR-4. The readout from the summit calls this “the BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy with the Perspective of Inclusive Growth and the Advancement of the 4th Industrial Revolution.”
Jin argues that China has a good chance of winning the competition for the IR-4
His assessment of the current landscape: the U.S. is in the first tier, with a clear lead in all five technological domains, but China is in the second tier along with Europe and Japan.
China’s chances come from industrial/manufacturing capabilities and the speed/scale to turn tech into products.
One concept to remember: the engineering dividend [工程师红利]. Jin notes that China enrolled 30 million students in higher ed in 2018, more than half of whom study science and engineering. Combined with political stability, a continuing demographic dividend, this makes Jin confident in China’s continued growth in the next twenty years.
Jin also warns against new dangers from technology. He reviews the dangerous experiments with gene editing by He Jiankui. He then spells out four warnings to humanity, which Stephen Hawking included in his will.
One of Hawking’s warnings was to prevent AI from gaining independent will. The others were related to aliens, gene editing, and nuclear weapons.
Jin states, “I personally think these four warnings are good and responsible, and I fully agree with them. Through these, everyone should know that human beings are facing many new problems. These problems must be faced by China, and China needs to take the lead in solving them.”
ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)
Must-read: The Brussels Effect and AI
Will the EU’s upcoming regulation for AI will diffuse globally, producing a so-called “Brussels Effect?” Charlotte Siegmann and Markus Anderljung recently published a GovAI report that tackles this question.
Markus wrote up a quick blurb for ChinAI readers: “The report argues that there is likely to be some Brussels Effect. It argues that a de jure effect (where similar laws are passed) might be particularly likely for China because of historical precedent. However, this effect might be undermined by recent regulatory efforts in AI. The report also argues that there is likely to be a more significant Brussels Effect than Beijing Effect (i.e. regulatory diffusion from China), partly because multinational tech companies often already offer differentiated products in China vs the rest of the world. Perhaps most interesting to China scholars is the detailed description of the mechanisms behind de facto diffusion, which could be applied to questions like: “what impacts might Chinese tech companies have abroad?”
Thanks to everyone for the helpful feedback on the reading list for my course on emerging tech, AI, and int’l politics. I’m particularly grateful for those who reached out via email to give extensive advice and recommendations. Let’s run it back for the second class I’m teaching this fall, which tackles the politics of China’s innovation system.
In a MERICS brief, Rebecca Arcesati and Antonia Hmaidi clearly and concisely break down lessons learned from China’s latest big data leak, featuring massive amounts of personal data from Shanghai’s police database. They conclude, “The latest leak serves as a reminder that Chinese authorities’ obsession with harvesting data on citizens undermines the security of personal information. It also limits data quality, which restricts automatic uses of surveillance data.”
Should-read: Shaping AI’s Future? China in Global AI Governance
In Journal of Contemporary China, Jing Cheng (Xidian University) and Jinghan Zeng (Lancaster University) have published a useful overview of China’s efforts in global AI governance. They make an interesting point about the potential for the G20 to become a leading AI governance platform. H/t to Bruce Dickson for sharing.
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 email@example.com or on Twitter at @jjding99