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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.)

Artificial Intelligence

Int’l Ethical Framework for Auto Drones Needed Before Widescale Implementation

Observers say the risks inherent in letting autonomous drones roam requires an ethical framework.

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Timothy Clement-Jones was a member of the U.K. Parliament's committee on artificial intelligence

July 19, 2021 — Autonomous drones could potentially serve as a replacement for military dogs in future warfare, said GeoTech Center Director David Bray during a panel discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council last month, but ethical concerns have observers clamoring for a framework for their use.

Military dogs, trained to assist soldiers on the battlefield, are currently a great asset to the military. AI-enabled autonomous systems, such as drones, are developing capabilities that would allow them to assist in the same way — for example, inspecting inaccessible areas and detecting fires and leaks early to minimize the chance of on-the-job injuries.

However, concerns have been raised about the ability to impact human lives, including the recent issue of an autonomous drone possibly hunting down humans in asymmetric warfare and anti-terrorist operations.

As artificial intelligence continues to develop at a rapid rate, society must determine what, if any, limitations should be implemented on a global scale. “If nobody starts raising the questions now, then it’s something that will be a missed opportunity,” Bray said.

Sally Grant, vice president at Lucd AI, agreed with Bray’s concerns, pointing out the controversies surrounding the uncharted territory of autonomous drones. Panelists proposed the possibility of an international limitation agreement with regards to AI-enabled autonomous systems that can exercise lethal force.

Timothy Clement-Jones, who was a member of the U.K. Parliament’s committee on artificial intelligence, called for international ethical guidelines, saying, “I want to see a development of an ethical risk-based approach to AI development and application.”

Many panelists emphasized the immense risk involve if this technology gets in the wrong hands. Panelists provided examples stretching from terrorist groups to the paparazzi, and the power they could possess with that much access.

Training is vital, Grant said, and soldiers need to feel comfortable with this machinery while not becoming over-reliant. The idea of implementing AI-enabled autonomous systems into missions, including during national disasters, is that soldiers can use it as guidance to make the most informed decisions.

“AI needs to be our servant not our master,” Clement agreed, emphasizing that soldiers can use it as a tool to help them and not as guidance to follow. He compared AI technology with the use of phone navigation, pointing to the importance of keeping a map in the glove compartment in case the technology fails.

The panelists emphasized the importance of remaining transparent and developing an international agreement with an ethical risk-based approach to AI development and application in these technologies, especially if they might enter the battlefield as a reliable companion someday.

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Artificial Intelligence

Deepfakes Could Pose A Threat to National Security, But Experts Are Split On How To Handle It

Experts disagree on the right response to video manipulation — is more tech or a societal shift the right solution?

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Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio

June 3, 2021—The emerging and growing phenomenon of video manipulation known as deepfakes could pose a threat to the country’s national security, policy makers and technology experts said at an online conference Wednesday, but how best to address them divided the panel.

A deepfake is a highly 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. A well done deepfake can make a person appear to do things that they never actually did and say things that they never actually said.

“The way the technology has evolved, it is literally impossible for a human to actually detect that something is a deepfake,” said Ashish Jaiman, the director of technology operations at Microsoft, at an online event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Experts are wary of the associated implications of this technology being increasingly offered to the general population, but how best to address the brewing dilemma has them split. Some believe better technology aimed at detecting deepfakes is the answer, while others say that a shift in social perspective is necessary. Others argue that such a societal shift would be dangerous, and that the solution actually lies in the hands of journalists.

Deepfakes pose a threat to democracy

Such technology posed no problem when only Hollywood had the means to portray such impressive special effects, says Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, but the technology has progressed to a point that allows most anybody to get their hands on it. He says that with the spread of disinformation, and the challenges that poses to establishing a well-informed public, deepfakes could be weaponized to spread lies and affect elections.

As of yet, however, no evidence exists that deepfakes have been used for this purpose, according to Daniel Kimmage, the acting coordinator for the Global Engagement Center of the Department of State. But he, along with the other panelists, agree that the technology could be used to influence elections and further already growing seeds of mistrust in the information media. They believe that its best to act preemptively and solve the problem before it becomes a crisis.

“Once people realize they can’t trust the images and videos they’re seeing, not only will they not believe the lies, they aren’t going to believe the truth,” said Dana Rao, executive vice president of software company Adobe.

New technology as a solution

Jaiman says Microsoft has been developing sophisticated technologies aimed at detecting deepfakes for over two years now. Deborah Johnson, emeritus technology professor at the University of Virginia School of Engineering, refers to this method as an “arms race,” in which we must develop technology that detects deepfakes at a faster rate than the deepfake technology progresses.

But Jaiman was the first to admit that, despite Microsoft’s hard work, detecting deepfakes remains a grueling challenge. Apparently, it’s much harder to detect a deepfake than it is to create one, he said. He believes that a societal response is necessary, and that technology will be inherently insufficient to address the problem.

Societal shift as a solution

Jaiman argues that people need to be skeptical consumers of information. He believes that until the technology catches up and deepfakes can more easily be detected and misinformation can easily be snuffed, people need to approach online information with the perspective that they could easily be deceived.

But critics believe this approach of encouraging skepticism could be problematic. Gabriela Ivens, the head of open source research at Human Rights Watch, says that “it becomes very problematic if people’s first reactions are not to believe anything.” Ivens’ job revolves around researching and exposing human rights violations, but says that the growing mistrust of media outlets will make it harder for her to gain the necessary public support.

She believes that a “zero-trust society” must be resisted.

Vint Cerf, the vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, says that it is up to journalists to prevent the growing spread of distrust. He accused journalists not of deliberately lying, but often times misleading the public. He believes that the true risk of deepfakes lies in their ability to corrode America’s trust in truth, and that it is up to journalists to restore that trust already beginning to corrode by being completely transparent and honest in their reporting.

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Artificial Intelligence

Complexity, Lack of Expertise Could Hamper Economic Benefits Of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is said to open up a new age of economic development, but its complexity could hamper its rollout.

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Keith Strier of NVIDIA

May 24, 2021 — One of the great challenges to adopting artificial intelligence is the lack of understanding of it, according to a panel hosted by the Atlantic Council’s new GeoTech Center.

The panel last week discussed the economic benefits of AI and how global policy leaders can leverage it to achieve sustainable economic growth with government buy-in. But getting the government excited and getting them to actually do something about it are two completely different tasks.

That’s because there exists little government understanding or planning around this emerging market, according to Keith Strier, vice-president of worldwide AI initiatives at NVIDIA, a tech company that designs graphics processing units.

If the trend continues, the consequences could be globally impactful, leading to a widening of the global economic divide and could even pose national security threats, he said.

“AI is the new critical infrastructure… It’s about the future of GDP,” said Strier.

Lack of understanding stems from complexity 

The reason for a lack of government understanding stems from the complexity of AI research, and the lack of consensus among experts, Strier said. He noted that the metrics used to quantify AI performance are “deceptively complex” and technical. Experts struggle to even find consensus on defining AI, only adding to its already intrinsic complexity.

This divergence in expert opinion makes the research markedly difficult to break down and communicate to policy makers in digestible, useful ways.

“Policy is just not evidence based,” Strier said. “It’s not well informed.”

World economic divide could widen 

Charles Jennings, AI entrepreneur and founder of internet technology company NeuralEye, warned of AI’s potential to widen the economic divide worldwide.

Currently, the 500 fastest computers in the world are split up between just 29 different countries, leaving the remaining 170 struggling to produce computing power. As computers become faster, the countries best suited to reap the economic benefits will do so at a rate that far outpaces less developed countries.

Jennings also believes that there exists security issues associated with the lack of AI understanding in government, claiming that the public’s increasing dependence on it matched with a lack of regulation could lead to a public safety threat. He is adamant that it’s time to bridge the gap between enterprise and policy.

Strier says there are three essential questions governments must answer: How much domestic AI compute capacity do we have? How does this compare to other nations? Do we have enough capacity to support our national AI ambitions?

Answering these questions would help governments address the AI question in terms of their own national values and interests. This would help create a framework that could mitigate the potential negative consequences which might otherwise affect us.

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