China warns over AI risk as Xi urges national security improvements

China’s Communist Party has warned about the potential risks of AI, a day after experts said it posed a similar risk as nuclear war and pandemics.

A meeting headed by President Xi Jinping called for “dedicated efforts to safeguard political security and improve the security governance of internet data and artificial intelligence”, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

With artificial intelligence advancing rapidly, the president urged officials to be “keenly aware of the complicated and challenging circumstances facing national security”.

President Xi said China needed a “new pattern of development with a new security architecture”, according to Xinhua – apparently reflecting concerns that AI could be harnessed for sabotage and spying.

The risk of human extinction from the technology “should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war”, AI pioneers warned this week.

The boss of the firm behind ChatGPT and the head of Google’s AI lab all signed the open letter, as did several of the “godfathers” of the technology.

The director of the Center for AI Safety, which published the statement, told Sky News that human intelligence would eventually be overtaken by the power of AI.

“That could put us in a more fragile position and we could possibly go the way of the Neanderthals or the gorillas,” said Dan Hendrycks.

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AI could put us in a fragile position – Dan Hendrycks

Tesla boss Elon Musk joined another group of experts in March to call for a pause in the training of large language AI models – the type used by ChatGPT and similar chatbots.

That letter warned of “profound risks” and said powerful systems should only be developed when it could be assured “their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable”.

The spread of disinformation, the loss of millions of jobs, through to existential threats are often cited as potential dangers if AI continues to evolve rapidly.

Though still in its infancy, it has already received attention for its ability to produce convincing fake images and video, as well as cloned music tracks.

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China’s warning comes despite its usual laissez-faire attitude to developing and using new technology.

An article in the Foreign Affairs journal this week warned its “blithe attitude toward technological risk, the government’s reckless ambition, and Beijing’s crisis mismanagement are all on a collision course with the escalating dangers of AI”.

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China has been criticised by many in the West for using tools such and facial and voice recognition – and even walking gait analysis – to monitor the population.

Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region have in particular been subject to such monitoring, with more than a million held in “re-education” camps.

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