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Bi-Partisan Congressmen: Trump Administration Lost Technology Leverage with China by Removing ZTE Ban

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WASHINGTON, July 12, 2018 – A Republican congressman on Wednesday criticized the U.S. government’s treatment of the ZTE ban as a waste of an opportunity that could have given the U.S. a leg up in the race for new technology.

Earlier, the Commerce Department announced that the U.S. has signed an agreement to lift the ban on Chinese phone-manufacturer ZTE once ZTE deposits $400 million into a U.S. bank  escrow account.

In the morning, politicians and experts gathered at a Politico event about artificial intelligence, which quickly became a criticism of China-U.S. relations in the tech industry.

“I think we missed an opportunity with ZTE,” Congressman Will Hurd, R-Texas, said, referring to the government’s response to the ZTE situation.

ZTE in the cross-hairs of executive and legislative branches

Earlier in the year, ZTE came under fire for violating U.S trade sanctions by illegally shipping parts to Iran and North Korea. Due to the violations, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a ban on ZTE in April, preventing U.S. companies from exporting parts to ZTE.

In June, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross officially declared that the government had reached a deal to lift the ban on ZTE. This announcement was met with large amounts of criticism from Democrats such as Sen. Bill Nelson, of Florida, who said at a hearing of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Agency that “the administration simply needs to revert back to a ban on ZTE.”

This criticism has crossed party lines as Hurd, a Republican, expressed similar disappointment in the administration’s decisions to lift the ban on ZTE.

“[ZTE] is an extension of the Chinese government. They were on their knees because they violated a number of international rules,” Hurd said.

Trump administration reaction called a lost point of leverage

According to Hurd, the ZTE incident represents the U.S. losing an opportunity to bargain with China. The incident with ZTE should have been used to force China to treat American companies in China the same as China treats companies from its own nation, Hurd said.

The July 11 agreement, signed amid Trump’s escalating trade war with China, will allow ZTE to begin trading again with U.S. companies after a three-month ban, once ZTE deposits the $400 million into an escrow account.

The ban had begun to cripple ZTE before Trump announced over tweet that he would work with the Chinese government to find a solution, citing massive job loss as a reason for his cooperation.

“We had a leverage point – I think we lost it,” Hurd said. “Trade wars with our allies are bad, but we should be using every tool in our tool kit against China.”

Is America at a disadvantage in playing by the rules?

Rep. John Delaney, D-Maryland, voiced concerns that the U.S. could lose in trade battles with China due to differences between the two countries’ governance styles.

“Our private sector is unrivaled,” Delaney said. “What [Hurd] highlighted is that China’s ascent to our rival economically is based on two things. One, they’ve worked harder and they’re making smarter investments, but the second thing they’ve done is not play by the rules.”

“We can’t let them do the second part,” Delaney said. “We have to put them in a position where they play by the rules.” China does well, he said because  “they are willing to sacrifice their citizens for the good of the advancement of the country.”

Hurd echoed those fears that the U.S. may be at risk of falling behind in a global trade race.

“How are we doing? I would say best case scenario, we’re tied with China,” Hurd said.

Falling behind China in other areas of technology

The idea that the U.S. is falling behind in the global race is not isolated to artificial intelligence.

Recently, the 5G debate and antitrust policy debates have been linked to Chinese competition. In a hearing on the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, company officials argued that the merger is necessary now – in the age of the Chinese threat –in order to accelerate U.S. 5G development.

“We’re still the benchmark, because the greatest innovators, the smartest people – all that is here in the United States of America. But China – their investment in AI research, their ability to force their private sector and their government to work together, is unparalleled,” said Hurd. “They don’t care about privacy.”

Hurd warned that due to China’s “authoritarian government”, China can “force action” in their industry and potentially bypass the U.S. in the tech industry.

In the past, China has been accused of stealing intellectual property of American companies to further its own inventions and market.  However, Hurd suggested that though that has been the case of the past, in the present, China is quickly sowing the seeds for growing their own technology and innovation sector.

(Photo from Politico event on July 11, 2018, by Heather Heimbach.)

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Artificial Intelligence

AI Should Compliment and Not Replace Humans, Says Stanford Expert

AI that strictly imitates human behavior can make workers superfluous and concentrate power in the hands of employers.

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Photo of Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab, in January 2017 by Sandra Blaser used with permission

WASHINGTON, November 4, 2022 – Artificial intelligence should be developed primarily to augment the performance of, not replace, humans, said Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab, at a Wednesday web event hosted by the Brookings Institution.

AI that complements human efforts can increase wages by driving up worker productivity, Brynjolfsson argued. AI that strictly imitates human behavior, he said, can make workers superfluous – thereby lowering the demand for workers and concentrating economic and political power in the hands of employers – in this case the owners of the AI.

“Complementarity (AI) implies that people remain indispensable for value creation and retain bargaining power in labor markets and in political decision-making,” he wrote in an essay earlier this year.

What’s more, designing AI to mimic existing human behaviors limits innovation, Brynjolfsson argued Wednesday.

“If you are simply taking what’s already being done and using a machine to replace what the human’s doing, that puts an upper bound on how good you can get,” he said. “The bigger value comes from creating an entirely new thing that never existed before.”

Brynjolfsson argued that AI should be crafted to reflect desired societal outcomes. “The tools we have now are more powerful than any we had before, which almost by definition means we have more power to change the world, to shape the world in different ways,” he said.

The AI Bill of Rights

In October, the White House released a blueprint for an “AI Bill of Rights.” The document condemned algorithmic discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or age and emphasized the importance of user privacy. It also endorsed system transparency with users and suggested the use of human alternatives to AI when feasible.

To fully align with the blueprint’s standards, Russell Wald, policy director for Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, argued at a recent Brookings event that the nation must develop a larger AI workforce.

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Artificial Intelligence

Workforce Training Needed to Address Artificial Intelligence Bias, Researchers Suggest

Building on the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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Russell Wald. Credit: Rod Searcey, Stanford Law School

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2022–To align with the newly released White House guide on artificial intelligence, Stanford University’s director of policy said at an October Brookings Institution event last week that there needs to be more social and technical workforce training to address artificial intelligence biases.

Released on October 4, the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights framework by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy is a guide for companies to follow five principles to ensure the protection of consumer rights from automated harm.

AI algorithms rely on learning the users behavior and disclosed information to customize services and advertising. Due to the nature of this process, algorithms carry the potential to send targeted information or enforce discriminatory eligibility practices based on race or class status, according to critics.

Risk mitigation, which prevents algorithm-based discrimination in AI technology is listed as an ‘expectation of an automated system’ under the “safe and effective systems” section of the White House framework.

Experts at the Brookings virtual event believe that workforce development is the starting point for professionals to learn how to identify risk and obtain the capacity to fulfill this need.

“We don’t have the talent available to do this type of investigative work,” Russell Wald, policy director for Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, said at the event.

“We just don’t have a trained workforce ready and so what we really need to do is. I think we should invest in the next generation now and start giving people tools and access and the ability to learn how to do this type of work.”

Nicol Turner-Lee, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, agreed with Wald, recommending sociologists, philosophers and technologists get involved in the process of AI programming to align with algorithmic discrimination protections – another core principle of the framework.

Core principles and protections suggested in this framework would require lawmakers to create new policies or include them in current safety requirements or civil rights laws. Each principle includes three sections on principles, automated systems and practice by government entities.

In July, Adam Thierer, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University stated that he is “a little skeptical that we should create a regulatory AI structure,” and instead proposed educating workers on how to set best practices for risk management, calling it an “educational institution approach.”

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Artificial Intelligence

Deepfakes Pose National Security Threat, Private Sector Tackles Issue

Content manipulation can include misinformation from authoritarian governments.

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Photo of Dana Roa of Adobe, Paul Lekas of Global Policy (left to right)

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2022 – Content manipulation techniques known as deepfakes are concerning policy makers and forcing the public and private sectors to work together to tackle the problem, a Center for Democracy and Technology event heard on Wednesday.

A deepfake is a technical method of generating synthetic media in which a person’s likeness is inserted into a photograph or video in such a way that creates the illusion that they were actually there. Policymakers are concerned that deepfakes could pose a threat to the country’s national security as the technology is being increasingly offered to the general population.

Deepfake concerns that policymakers have identified, said participants at Wednesday’s event, include misinformation from authoritarian governments, faked compromising and abusive images, and illegal profiting from faked celebrity content.

“We should not and cannot have our guard down in the cyberspace,” said Representative John Katko, R-NY, ranking member of House Committee on homeland security.

Adobe pitches technology to identify deepfakes

Software company Adobe released an open-source toolkit to counter deepfake concerns earlier this month, said Dana Rao, executive vice president of Adobe. The companies’ Content Credentials feature is a technology developed over three years that tracks changes made to images, videos, and audio recordings.

Content Credentials is now an opt-in feature in the company’s photo editing software Photoshop that it says will help establish credibility for creators by adding “robust, tamper-evident provenance data about how a piece of content was produced, edited, and published,” read the announcement.

Adobe’s Connect Authenticity Initiative project is dedicated to addressing problems establishing trust after the damage caused by deepfakes. “Once we stop believing in true things, I don’t know how we are going to be able to function in society,” said Rao. “We have to believe in something.”

As part of its initiative, Adobe is working with the public sector in supporting the Deepfake Task Force Act, which was introduced in August of 2021. If adopted, the bill would establish a National Deepfake and Digital task force comprised of members from the private sector, public sector, and academia to address disinformation.

For now, said Cailin Crockett, senior advisor to the White House Gender Policy Council, it is important to educate the public on the threat of disinformation.

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