China May Be Chasing Impossible Dream by Trying to Harness Internet Algorithms

Article by Karen Hao: “China’s powerful cyberspace regulator has taken the first step in a pioneering—and uncertain—government effort to rein in the automated systems that shape the internet.

Earlier this month, the Cyberspace Administration of China published summaries of 30 core algorithms belonging to two dozen of the country’s most influential internet companies, including TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd., e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., owner of China’s ubiquitous WeChat super app.

The milestone marks the first systematic effort by a regulator to compel internet companies to reveal information about the technologies powering their platforms, which have shown the capacity to radically alter everything from pop culture to politics. It also puts Beijing on a path that some technology experts say few governments, if any, are equipped to handle….

One important question the effort raises, algorithm experts say, is whether direct government regulation of algorithms is practically possible.

The majority of today’s internet platform algorithms are based on a technology called machine learning, which automates decisions such as ad-targeting by learning to predict user behaviors from vast repositories of data. Unlike traditional algorithms that contain explicit rules coded by engineers, most machine-learning systems are black boxes, making it hard to decipher their logic or anticipate the consequences of their use.

Beijing’s interest in regulating algorithms started in 2020, after TikTok sought an American buyer to avoid being banned in the U.S., according to people familiar with the government’s thinking. When several bidders for the short-video platform lost interest after Chinese regulators announced new export controls on information-recommendation technology, it tipped off Beijing to the importance of algorithms, the people said…(More)”.