Why invite China?

Chinese FlagIn the past, a public intervention by a former UK Prime Minister might be considered big news, but these days it seems to happen most months. This time it was the turn of Liz Truss on the topic of AI. Truss has largely been ridiculed by the UK media; the shortest serving PM, accused of crashing the economy.

However, Truss’ views shouldn’t be dismissed too readily. She has held posts in government since 2014, most recently holding the office of Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. The rise of AI, alongside ethical and geopoltical concerns around China, will have been areas on which she will have been well briefed.

In her letter to Rishi Sunak, she asks for China’s invitation to the Bletchley AI Summit to be rescinded, linking this to the early decision in 2020 to ban the use of Huawei equipment in UK 5G infrastructure. She writes:

We should be working with our allies, not those seeking to subvert freedom and democracy.

I’m not sure if Rishi Sunak has responded directly, but he alluded to the decision in his recent speech on AI. The key phrase “AI doesn’t respect borders” expresses the need for a global cooperation, Sunak responds here:

And yes, we’ve invited China. I know there are some who will say they should have been excluded. But there can be no serious strategy for AI, without at least trying to engage all of the world’s leading AI powers. That might not have been the easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.

Sunak is right that AI doesn’t respect borders, that there needs to be global collaboration. Given how high the stakes are with existential risk and AI warfare it would be foolish for any nation to unilaterally agree red lines and fall behind, while equally not wanting to fuel an AI ‘arms race’, global consensus is vital.

China is rightly critiqued for its human rights abuses and its posturing in the South China Sea, but we can’t just assume that they’ve got it completely wrong on AI. We perhaps would immediately recoil from Chinese tech ideas like the ‘Social Credit System‘ (perhaps we think of Black Mirror: Nosedive), but maybe they make more sense in a Shame/Honour culture. They may have very different red lines, and different ethical frameworks to govern their approach. It’s arogant for us to assume ‘West is Best’, so perhaps before we critique others we need to do further work to define our own ethics; where do they come from, where can they flex and where must they not bend, what are our red lines – and why do they matter? Perhaps we need a local ethical conversation before we go global…

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