Weird Times: The China Issue
Government regulates Cyberspace + AI raises embryos, prosecutes criminals, reads workers' minds
The Weird News Project attempts to present a trippy, hallucinatory vision of reality using only well-sourced facts and plain, succinct English.
For this issue, we focused on recent news from China, mostly about AI and the Cyberspace.
The project is still taking shape and may develop in many different ways (for one, I am working on an animated appearance by Glenn Loury). If you’re a writer, artist, designer, animator, voice over artist, sound guy or gal, etc., and want to take part, find me at email@example.com.
China Establishes a Three-Branch Approach to AI Governance
Over the past seven months, the Chinese government has published a number of documents that, taken together, constitute a framework for a three-branch approach to AI governance:
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) develops rules for online algorithms, with a focus on public opinion. They published a draft of thirty rules for regulating Internet recommendation algorithms and a more ambitious three-year road map for governing all Internet algorithms. Examples of rules include a stipulation that recommendation algorithms must “vigorously disseminate positive energy” and a requirement that algorithm providers must be able to “give an explanation” and “remedy” situations in which algorithms have infringed on user rights and interests.
The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) creates tools for testing and certification of “trustworthy AI” systems. They published the country’s first white paper on the topic, dealing with more technical aspects of AI governance, such as testing systems for robustness, bias, and explainability.
The Ministry of Science and Technology establishes ethics principles to guide AI development and creates review boards within companies and research institutions to overview the implementation of these principles. This approach, exemplified by the 2021 guidelines for universities, labs, and companies, is the least hands-on approach of the three branches.
All of these institutions are fairly young, and the ecosystem they make up is continuing to evolve.
Robotic Nanny Raises Mice Embryos in Artificial Wombs
Scientists in Suzhou in Jiangsu province created an A.I. that can watch over, feed, and monitor the health of embryos as they develop into fetuses in artificial wombs.
The A.I. is equipped with special lenses that enable it to notice minute changes in embryos’ development that humans would miss. It closely observes the needs of the embryos in its care, and it can adjust the mix of nutrients and carbon dioxide they receive to improve their environment. The machine can also rank the viability of the embryos it looks after, as well as determine when one has died or become defective.
The A.I. currently monitors mouse embryos, not human ones, as experimenting on a human embryo older than 14 days is a violation of international law. The A.I.’s creators do argue that there is a case for implementing this technology for humans: they say it would “help further understand the origin of life and embryonic development of humans” and “provide a theoretical basis for solving birth defects and other major reproductive health problems.”
Scientists Teach A.I. Prosecutor to Charge Criminals
Researchers in China’s largest district prosecution office, the Shanghai Pudong People’s Procuratorate, designed an A.I. capable of filing criminal charges. The research team claims that the A.I. can file a charge with 97 percent accuracy given a verbal description of the case.
The system was trained to evaluate evidence and conditions for an arrest based on thousands of cases from 2015 to 2020. For now, its area of expertise is limited to Shanghai’s eight most commonly prosecuted crimes: credit card fraud, running a gambling operation, dangerous driving, intentional injury, obstructing official duties, theft, fraud, and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”—a catch-all charge often leveled against protesters and activists.
The project’s lead scientist, Professor Shi Yong, sees the A.I. as a way to lighten the caseloads of human prosecutors. “The system can replace prosecutors in the decision-making process to a certain extent,” said Shi.
SOURCE: South China Morning Post
Factory Robot Reads Co-workers’ Brain Waves, Increases Productivity
Researchers at China’s Three Gorges University created an A.I. that can read its human coworkers' brain waves and muscle signals to predict their needs on the factory floor. According to the research team’s paper published in China Mechanical Engineering, the A.I. learned to understand when its co-worker needed tools passed to him without being told, based solely on the signals from his brain and muscles.
The factory robot learned to read the signals over the course of hundreds of hours of training with volunteers wearing brain wave and muscle detectors. While researchers said the brain signals were weak and required intense concentration to work, the machine could read the combination of brain and muscle signals with 96 percent accuracy.
The A.I.’s performance has yet to be tested in a real factory setting, which would require workers to wear brain wave detectors in their hats and muscle detectors under their uniforms.
SOURCE: South China Morning Post
The Cyberspace Administration Attacks Rumors, Pornography, Feudal Superstition, Grindr
In late January, the Cyberspace Administration of China has launched a monthlong Internet-cleanup campaign to create a "healthy, happy, and peaceful online environment." The regulator said it will crack down on online rumors, pornography, feudal superstition and other “ill-natured” activities. It also pledged to prevent celebrities who had engaged in illegal or unethical activities from taking part in entertainment shows and live broadcasting.
The first result of this campaign noticed by Western media was that the gay matchup app Grindr has disappeared from Chinese app stores.
Gaming Company Demands Face Scans from Users to Prove Their Identities
Chinese video game company Tencent introduced a policy that forces its mobile game users playing for long periods of time at night to verify their identity via facial recognition scan.
The policy, called “Midnight Patrol,” is part of the company’s “Balanced Online Entertainment Initiative,” aimed at restricting the gameplay time of minors under the age of 18, who are allowed to play video games only between the hours of 8 am and 10 pm, and for no more than 90 minutes on weekdays. Under the policy, when mobile game users play long enough or spend enough in-game money to trigger the verification request, they must present a face scan to prove that they are older than 18 or be kicked out of the game.
Tencent has access to China’s national citizen database, which it uses to verify the identities of its users, who must register using their real names and national identities.
SOURCE: The Verge
China’s Version of TikTok Tells Users to Put Their Phones Down, Promotes Culture
Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app, started telling its users to “put down the phone,” “go to bed,” or get ready for “work tomorrow“ when they’ve been using the app for too long (it’s not yet clear what exactly the time limit is). The messages last for five seconds and can’t be swiped away.
The company also announced that it will invest “tens of millions of yuans” (10 mil CNY ≈ 1.5 mil USD) into promoting live-streamers whose content falls into one of seven music-related categories: folk songs, bel canto, national instruments, Western instruments, ethnic dance, classical dance, and contemporary dance.
In September of 2021, Douyin also unveiled a mandatory “youth mode” for users under 14. They are now allowed to use the app between 6am and 10pm only, and for no more than 40 min a day. The “youth mode” also features additional educational content such as scientific experiments, history explainers, and videos from museums.
SOURCE: South China Morning Post
The Weird News Project project is continuing to evolve. In the upcoming issues, I want to take another stab at articulating the philosophy behind it, and to present a collaboration with Glenn Loury, based on today’s post.
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