China has some of biggest and most valued tech companies in the world, but do they reflect on their ethical responsibilities? This article examines the possibilities and challenges of China’s development.
Due to China’s large population with 1.6 billion people, increasing investments in research and development and the world’s second largest economy, China is often considered as the future superpower. So, is China more than facial recognition, social control of the citizens and new technological weaponry? A Japanese analysis found that more scientific publications related to newest technological developments came from China than any other country in the world. As a result of this, a new movement has been raising the question; if scientific research must be in service of the country or can knowledge transcend nationalism and politics?
The Chinese super-twins
In November 2018 the Chinese researcher, He Jiankui, was the world’s first scientist who announced the birth of twin girls whose genomes were altered with the gene-editing tool, CRISPR, to make them resist HIV. However, it is still unsure how the gene-manipulation will affect the twins’ lives in the future and if there will be any side-effects. Some say that they might get improved memory and intelligence, and this has caused skepticism among international scientists, who have questioned whether the prevention from HIV was the primary reason why the Chinese researcher changed the gene of the twins.
Alibaba and Xi Jingping
China has also seen an explosion of business innovation where the country has 9 out of the world’s 20 biggest tech companies and the companies Alibaba, Tencent and Ant Financial are in top 10.
These big companies have benefitted from varying levels of blockchain, throttling, censorship, and other measures that have hobbled foreign competitors. Moreover, compared to US, China’s mobile payment market valued at $15.4 trillion which is 41 times the size of the US’s.
China’s technological development have made the lives of many middle-class Chinese infinitely more convenient, and the majority in China seem to be satisfied with the social stability Xi Jingping and government provides.
Digital police state?
So, monitoring and AI may reduce crime and create a more secure social city life, but can it also be exploited and abused? The scientists and tech-giants are facing large ethical quandaries in an authoritarian state. Some Chinese companies has as a result of this been banned in international countries, such as Huawei who have been excluded in Australia, the United States and New Zealand from becoming the new high-speed 5G mobile network, fearing that the Chinese regime will gain critical infrastructure control and espionage.
In the northwestern region of China, Xinjiang, thousands of the Muslim minority, Uighur, have during the last years escaped to Turkey from the growing repression. According to the Chinese government, they control Xinjiang because they want to fight religious extremism, but according to experts, scientists and activists it is a digital police and mass surveillance state with freedom as marginal as in the closed North Korea. The Chinese government is holding more than 1 million Uighur’s in concentration camps and the Chinese government is benefiting from the leading tech-giants, such as iFlytek who is working on a nation-wide voice-based surveillance system in collaboration with the government.
“Black Mirror” in real life
In 2020, China will fully roll out its controversial social credit score. The score system is based on both financial behaviors and social behaviors like lighting up in smoke-free zones. Even buying alcohol in the supermarkets will decrease your social score compared to buying diapers and baby food. The penalties will include loss of employment and less educational opportunities included their children’s opportunities, as well as transportation restrictions.
We have for decades implemented the idea that a person’s financial history and cultural background reflects trustworthiness, and have influenced employment and rental opportunities, but China takes the social control surveillance to another level.
Is Google gambling with China?
Another reason to keep an eye on China and the tech-giants is the on-going conflict between Google and China. In August 2018, The Intercept reported that Google was working on a new censored Chinese search engine, called Project Dragonfly. Facebook is already blocked in China and has been so since 2009 because activists from Xinjiang were using Facebook to communicate to their network. However, it is a two-sided discussion whether or not Google should cooperate with China. The dilemma also splits Google’s employees internally, because some think that by serving the Chinese market, they could broaden the horizons of Chinese users and nudge the users in a democratic way by making small notices, when their search results have been censored. Since knowledge is power, lack of knowledge can also make the Chinese citizens aware of how many of their search results are being censored. Thus, that is why the Chinese government has been very skeptical about Google which places AI as an indispensable tool for economic activity, military power, and social governance.
What do you think?
How far should Denmark and the big tech-giants go in a cooperation with China? And how can alliances between international scientists and tech-giants maintain an ethical and moral standard?
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