China appoints ethics committee amid artificial intelligence push

Artificial intelligence researcher Chen Xiaoping is leading a new AI ethics committee established in China to develop guidelines which address the potential risks associated with large-scale applications of the technology, the South China Morning Post reports.

Chen is a professor and the director of the University of Science and Technology of China’s Robotics Laboratory, and the inventor of AI robot Jia Jia. He led the new group, which is scheduled to meet in May, through its first conference last year.

China has moved aggressively to take a global leadership position in AI technology, with investments and an open source platform in development, but the SCMP reports it is playing catch-up in the development of ethical guidelines for the field. With deployments increasing for both state and business applications, Chen says the technology has reached the point where dialogue about risks is necessary.

“If the technology was far off being applied there would be no need to talk about ethics research, but there is value in this research into technologies that might be applied on a large scale in the next 10 or 20 years,” he says.

The federal government’s Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence appointed Chen to establish the committee, which includes experts in AI research, industry, sociology, and law, according to the SCMP. The committee will consider data privacy, AI in medicine self-driving vehicles, and AI in senior care. SCMP notes that deployments of facial recognition at subways, street crossings and supermarkets make privacy an area of high public concern in the country.

The European Union has formed a High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) on AI, which proposed draft AI ethics guidelines in December.

Chen says that while ethics are not an area of emphasis in AI currently in China, that can change quickly. He notes that the furor created by the announcement of gene-edited twins by a Chinese scientist has led to a surge in interest in the ethics of biomedical engineering, and changes to the ethical review process.

“But AI is different from gene-editing in the way that the risks of AI are mostly in the applications, not in the technology itself,” Chen said.

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