China Regulator Warns AI Poses Challenge To Society

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Head of Chinese internet regulator warns of generative AI regulatory challenge as US prepares trade restrictions targeting field

The head of China’s internet regulator has expressed concerns about the disruptive potential of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT, as the country’s government seeks a balance between encouraging innovation and managing its effects.

Zhuang Rongwen, director of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which is tasked with AI regulation, told an event on Monday that generative AI could affect every aspect of society and daily life and was creating a new challenge for regulators.

Zhuang said it was necessary to “make sure AI is reliable and controllable”, according to local media reports.

He spoke at the Nishan Dialogue on Digital Civilisation in Qufu, the birthplace of Conficius in China’s northern Shandong province, an event hosted by the Beijing-backed World Internet Conference.

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‘Black box’

Zhuang said regulators were particularly concerned with the large amounts of data used in generative AI, as well as the “black box” nature of large language models and privacy.

The CAC has not yet issued an official permit or licence for any generative AI product, but has published a list of 41 generative AI algorithms that have been registered, after which tools must go through security testing and review before receiving a licence.

Chinese tech giants including Baidu and Alibaba have meanwhile launched a number of ChatGPT-like tools on a “trial” basis without making them fully available to the public.

The sector was unexpectedly kick-started last autumn with the public launch of ChatGPT by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, with the tool quickly gaining more than 100 million users.

AI competition

The sector is expected to become a key area of competition between the US and China, with regulations being formulated in the US that industry watchers say are likely to target AI.

The US administration is currently carrying out an outbound investment review, expected to result in an executive order including restrictions on US companies’ investment into Chinese AI.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken met with Chinese president Xi Jinping last week and later spoke about areas of cooperation between the two countries, including the world economy and climate change.

But he made it clear that the two remained in competition on advanced technology.

“It’s not in our interest to provide technology to China that could be used against us,” he said.