US tech giants avoid top sponsorships at latest World Artificial Intelligence Conference amidst rising geopolitical tensions
US companies are keeping a low profile at China’s World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai this week, amidst heightened international tensions around the technology.
Only one US company, mobile chip giant Qualcomm, is sponsoring the event as a “elite partner” – one tier down from its “strategic partners” or main sponsors.
By contrast, before the pandemic the 2019 edition of the event had IBM, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services as strategic partners and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk was one of its most high-profile speakers.
This year the top sponsors include Chinese tech giants Alibaba, its fintech spin-off Ant Group and Tencent Holdings, along with Huawei Technologies and SenseTime, both of the latter of which are sanctioned by the US.
Some large US tech firms are sending delegates, however, with Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Tesla all having a presence at the show, according to organisers.
They are to discuss topics including large language models – the technology behind generative AIs such as ChatGPT – semiconductors, robotics, the metaverse, autonomous driving and the blockchain.
The conference was launched in 2018 and gives tech companies a venue to meet with Chinese government officials, with former vice-premier Liu He as the opening speaker of the first event.
It lists eight government departments as its sponsors, including internet regulator the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The shift shows how much has changed since 2019, with the US instituting progressively more stringent sanctions against China as it seeks to curb the country’s development of technologies including 5G and advanced semiconductors.
Following a worldwide frenzy of interest around generative AI that followed the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT late last year, the US is reportedly planning more sanctions targeting China’s development in that field.
The US is reportedly undertaking an outbound investment review that is expected to result in an executive order including restrictions on US companies’ investment into Chinese AI.
Existing measures have already banned companies such as Nvidia from selling high-end AI accelerator chips to Chinese firms.