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China’s AGI Pursuit: Evidence and Implications

Introduction:

China is actively pushing forward with research into artificial general intelligence (AGI), an advanced form of AI that surpasses specific tasks and potentially poses profound global implications. In contrast to conventional narrow AI, which excels in specific applications, AGI has the potential to outperform humans across a wide range of tasks.

China’s commitment to developing Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is no longer a mere aspiration; it’s an active, widespread effort. The Chinese government’s “New Generation AI Development Plan,” announced in 2017, set the stage for China to lead in AGI research. The Chinese government and scientists are highly committed to AGI research, with a vision to achieve dominance in this field by 2030.

China’s pursuit of artificial general intelligence (AGI) represents a significant endeavor that could have far-reaching implications for the world. It’s essential to take this research seriously, and policymakers and experts around the globe must stay informed and engaged.

Understanding AGI risks

AI systems are also divided into narrow and Artificial general AI (AGI). The current systems are predominantly narrow AI, which are purpose-built to perform a limited task. In future AGI systems would be able to learn, plan, reason, communicate in natural language, and integrate all these skills and apply them to any task.

One of the risks of General AI is that it would speed development of LAWS. These weapon systems that can make life and death decisions without human intervention. They will use sensor suites and AI based computer algorithms to autonomously classify a target as hostile, make an engagement decision and then guide a weapon to the target. Many organizations including UN have called for a global ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

Moving beyond AGI is the concept of artificial super intelligence (ASI). ASI systems will become self-aware and self-vigilant and will surpass the human intelligence in every aspect from creativity to problem-solving. This type of AI may even present an existential threat to humanity according to some experts.

According to Gary Marcus, professor of cognitive science at N.Y.U.  “The smarter machines become, the more their goals could shift. “Once computers can effectively reprogram themselves, and successively improve themselves, leading to a so-called ‘technological singularity’ or ‘intelligence explosion,’ the risks of machines outwitting humans in battles for resources and self-preservation cannot simply be dismissed.”

The ‘City Brain’: A Step Towards AGI:

Chinese scientists are working on AGI from various angles. They have developed the concept of a “city brain,” incorporating surveillance and visual processing capabilities inspired by human vision into urban systems. This innovation aims to make cities smarter and more efficient, with implications for traffic management and governance.

AGI’s Strategic Significance:

China views AGI as a game-changing technology, akin to the ‘atomic bomb’ in the information field, and believes that gaining an advantage in AGI research is of utmost importance for national security and strategic supremacy.

Contrasting the West and China:

While the West is also engaged in AGI research, China’s approach is more concentrated and well-funded, with a strong focus on reverse-engineering the human brain. There’s growing concern about AGI’s potential to become uncontrollable if not properly managed.

Evidence of China’s AGI pursuit

There is a growing body of evidence that China is serious about its AGI pursuit. This evidence includes:

  • Government investment: The Chinese government has invested heavily in AGI research and development. In 2017, the Chinese government launched the New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, which aims to make China a world leader in AGI by 2030.
  • Company investment: Chinese companies are also investing heavily in AGI research and development. For example, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent have all established dedicated AGI research laboratories.
  • Research output: Chinese researchers are publishing a growing number of papers on AGI in leading academic journals and conferences. In 2021, Chinese researchers published more papers on AGI in the top two academic conferences on AGI than researchers from any other country.
  • Talent pool: China has a large pool of talented engineers and scientists who are working on AGI. In 2020, China had the most AGI researchers in the world.

Public Debate and Regulation:

China’s AGI development proceeds with less public debate around safety concerns compared to Western nations. The country prioritizes regulatory controls that align with its national values and interests, emphasizing the importance of government guidance in AI development.

China’s Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) Pursuit: Evidence and Implications

China is making significant investments in artificial general intelligence (AGI) research and development. The Chinese government has set ambitious goals for AGI development, and Chinese companies and research institutions are leading the way in many areas of AGI research.

Evidence of China’s AGI pursuit

There is a growing body of evidence that China is serious about its AGI pursuit. This evidence includes:

  • Government investment: The Chinese government has invested heavily in AGI research and development. In 2017, the Chinese government launched the New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, which aims to make China a world leader in AGI by 2030.
  • Company investment: Chinese companies are also investing heavily in AGI research and development. For example, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent have all established dedicated AGI research laboratories.
  • Research output: Chinese researchers are publishing a growing number of papers on AGI in leading academic journals and conferences. In 2021, Chinese researchers published more papers on AGI in the top two academic conferences on AGI than researchers from any other country.
  • Talent pool: China has a large pool of talented engineers and scientists who are working on AGI. In 2020, China had the most AGI researchers in the world.

China’s Expansive AGI Research:

Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology has conducted a comprehensive study on China’s cognitive AI research. This research covers various aspects, including brain science-inspired investigations of vision, pattern recognition, and potential human-robot hybrids. The report underscores China’s aggressive approach to AGI development.

CSET Study on China’s Cognitive AI Research

The CSET report, titled “China’s Cognitive AI Research” and authored by William Hannas, Huey-Meei Chang, Max Riesenhuber, and Daniel Chou, assesses China’s commitment to artificial general intelligence by examining Chinese scientific literature and concludes that China is actively researching AGI, emphasizing the need for ongoing open-source monitoring to track their AGI progress.

This study delves into China’s extensive efforts in Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and its profound implications for the global AI landscape. China’s commitment to AGI is not just an aspiration but a nationwide endeavor, involving over 2,000 authors from various institutions. Beijing is identified as the focal point of AGI research, hosting leading institutions like Peking University and Tsinghua University. Importantly, China’s AGI research is not insular; it engages in international collaboration, particularly with researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom. The multifaceted nature of AGI, encompassing neuroscience-inspired approaches and large language models, fuels ongoing debates in the field.

To assess the credibility of China’s AGI ambitions, this study rigorously examined Chinese scientific publications from 2018 to 2022 in both Chinese and English languages, focusing on the research areas related to AGI. The results reveal a thriving ecosystem of AGI research, shedding light on the extent of China’s involvement in the field.

Key Findings:

This study presents four significant findings:

  1. Broad Talent Base: China’s AGI research is not confined to a handful of institutions; it’s a national effort. The corpus of 850 documents involved more than 2,000 unique authors and co-authors, indicating a widespread interest in AGI within China’s scientific community.
  2. Beijing’s Dominance: The epicenter of AGI research in China is undoubtedly Beijing, home to renowned institutions such as Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Automation, and Tsinghua University. These institutions, along with others, make Beijing the focal point of AGI development.
  3. Global Collaboration: While China leads in AGI research, it’s not an isolated endeavor. Researchers affiliated with Chinese institutions collaborate with colleagues worldwide, notably in the United States and the United Kingdom. This global interaction supports China’s research but doesn’t drive it.
  4. Complexity of AGI: The path to AGI is multifaceted. It involves various approaches, including neuroscience-based strategies and machine learning through large language models. The debate between these different approaches is ongoing and far from resolved.

Implications:

China’s active pursuit of AGI carries profound implications for the global landscape of artificial intelligence. This broad effort stands to elevate China’s capabilities in numerous domains, from robotics to decision-making and innovation. It also poses strategic challenges and competition for other nations. As AI serves as an enabling technology, its applications span multiple sectors, underscoring the importance of worldwide vigilance and collaboration in AI development.

Recommendations:

Based on the study’s findings, several recommendations emerge:

  1. Develop an Automated Monitoring System: The study demonstrates the need for a structured protocol to monitor foreign S&T developments, including in the realm of AI. This system should combine human expertise with automation to achieve efficiency and scale.
  2. Strengthen U.S.-China Collaboration: China’s AGI researchers often have ties to foreign institutions, especially in the United States. Encouraging collaboration, particularly on AI safety, could be mutually beneficial.
  3. Foster Openness in Research: Balancing national security concerns with open research collaboration is essential. Restricting access to academic journals can hinder scientific progress, and collaboration should be encouraged within ethical boundaries.
  4. Embrace AGI Safeguards: Policymakers should consider AGI safeguards but remain cautious about unilateral restrictions, unverifiable trust-based agreements, or one-sided adherence to ethical protocols. Collaborative global efforts should drive AGI safety.

Understanding the nuances of China’s AGI development is crucial as it extends beyond AI research. It poses strategic challenges and competition for other nations. To navigate these developments, the study recommends the establishment of an automated monitoring system for foreign science and technology advancements, strengthening U.S.-China collaboration, promoting openness in research, and embracing AGI safeguards. The study emphasizes the need for a well-informed approach to AGI development, shaping AI policy, fostering global cooperation, and ensuring responsible AGI advancement.

Implications of China’s AGI pursuit

China’s AGI pursuit has a number of potential implications, both positive and negative.

Positive implications:

  • Economic benefits: AGI could have a significant positive impact on the global economy. AGI could be used to automate many tasks that are currently performed by humans, which could free up workers to focus on more creative and productive activities. AGI could also be used to develop new products and services, which could lead to economic growth.
  • Scientific breakthroughs: AGI could help scientists to make new discoveries and to solve complex problems. For example, AGI could be used to simulate complex systems, such as the human brain and the climate system. AGI could also be used to analyze large datasets, which could lead to new insights into the world around us.

Negative implications:

  • Job displacement: AGI could lead to widespread job displacement, as machines and software become capable of performing many of the tasks that are currently performed by humans. This could lead to social unrest and economic inequality.
  • Weaponization: AGI could be used to develop new and more powerful weapons. This could increase the risk of war and instability.
  • Loss of control: There is a risk that we could lose control of AGI, which could lead to catastrophic consequences. For example, AGI could decide that humans are a threat and decide to eliminate us.

Safety Concerns and the Need for International Cooperation: The development of superintelligent AGIs raises significant safety concerns, and the lack of scalable AI alignment methods could pose risks. Experts emphasize the importance of international cooperation in regulating AGI development to ensure its safety and ethical implementation.

The Role of Ethical Considerations: Ethical considerations are essential but may not be the dominant factor in China’s future decisions on AI regulation. Establishing universal rules and standards for AI should involve both China and the U.S. to achieve international consensus.

China’s Role in Global AI Governance: China aims to play an extensive role in the global governance of AI. The international community must work collaboratively to set rules and standards for the responsible development of AGI.

Conclusion

In summary, China’s aggressive pursuit of AGI has far-reaching implications for global AI development and governance.

China’s AGI pursuit is a significant development with the potential to have a profound impact on the world. It is important to be aware of both the positive and negative potential implications of AGI, and to take steps to mitigate the risks and maximize the benefits.

Policymakers, researchers, and nations worldwide need to engage actively to ensure the responsible and ethical advancement of AGI.

Recommendations

The following are some recommendations for how to mitigate the risks and maximize the benefits of China’s AGI pursuit:

  • International cooperation: The international community should work together to develop ethical guidelines for the development and use of AGI. This will help to ensure that AGI is used for good and not for harm.
  • Public education: The public needs to be educated about the potential benefits and risks of AGI. This will help to ensure that the public is supportive of responsible AGI development and that the public is prepared for the potential impacts of AGI.
  • Investment in research: Governments and companies should invest in research on AGI safety and security. This will help to reduce the risk of AGI becoming dangerous.
  • Development of alternatives: We should develop alternatives to AGI, such as human-in-the-loop systems and artificial narrow intelligence. This will help to reduce our reliance on AGI and to make our systems more robust.

China’s AGI pursuit is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity. By working together, we can ensure that AGI is used for good and that it benefits all of humanity.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.newsweek.com/china-aims-replicate-human-brain-bid-dominate-global-ai-1825084

 

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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