China’s new AI rules protect people — and the Communist Party’s power

Article by Johanna M. Costigan: “In April, in an effort to regulate rapidly advancing artificial intelligence technologies, China’s internet watchdog introduced draft rules on generative AI. They cover a wide range of issues — from how data is trained to how users interact with generative AI such as chatbots. 

Under the new regulations, companies are ultimately responsible for the “legality” of the data they use to train AI models. Additionally, generative AI providers must not share personal data without permission, and must guarantee the “veracity, accuracy, objectivity, and diversity” of their pre-training data. 

These strict requirements by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) for AI service providers could benefit Chinese users, granting them greater protections from private companies than many of their global peers. Article 11 of the regulations, for instance, prohibits providers from “conducting profiling” on the basis of information gained from users. Any Instagram user who has received targeted ads after their smartphone tracked their activity would stand to benefit from this additional level of privacy.  

Another example is Article 10 — it requires providers to employ “appropriate measures to prevent users from excessive reliance on generated content,” which could help prevent addiction to new technologies and increase user safety in the long run. As companion chatbots such as Replika become more popular, companies should be responsible for managing software to ensure safe use. While some view social chatbots as a cure for loneliness, depression, and social anxiety, they also present real risks to users who become reliant on them…(More)”.

If good data is key to decarbonization, more than half of Asia’s economies are being locked out of progress, this report says

Blog by Ewan Thomson: “If measuring something is the first step towards understanding it, and understanding something is necessary to be able to improve it, then good data is the key to unlocking positive change. This is particularly true in the energy sector as it seeks to decarbonize.

But some countries have a data problem, according to energy think tank Ember and climate solutions enabler Subak’s Asia Data Transparency Report 2023, and this lack of open and reliable power-generation data is holding back the speed of the clean power transition in the region.

Asia is responsible for around 80% of global coal consumption, making it a big contributor to carbon emissions. Progress is being made on reducing these emissions, but without reliable data on power generation, measuring the rate of this progress will be challenging.

These charts show how different Asian economies are faring on data transparency on power generation and what can be done to improve both the quality and quantity of the data.

Infographic showing the number of economies by overall transparency score.

Over half of Asian countries lack reliable data in their power sectors, Ember says. Image: Ember

There are major data gaps in 24 out of the 39 Asian economies covered in the Ember research. This means it is unclear whether the energy needs of the nearly 700 million people in these 24 economies are being met with renewables or fossil fuels…(More)”.

Air-Pollution Knowledge Is Power

Article by Chana R. Schoenberger: “What happens when people in countries where the government offers little pollution monitoring learn that the air quality is dangerous? A new study details how the US Embassy in Beijing began to monitor the Chinese capital’s air-pollution levels and tweet about them in 2008. The program later extended to other US embassies in cities around the world. The practice led to a measurable decline in air pollution in those cities, few of which had local pollution monitoring before, the researchers found.

The paper’s authors, Akshaya Jha, an assistant professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and Andrea La Nauze, a lecturer at the School of Economics at the University of Queensland, used satellite data to compare pollution levels, measured annually. The researchers found that the level of air pollution went down after the local US embassy began tweeting pollution numbers from monitoring equipment that diplomatic personnel had installed.

The embassy program yielded a drop in fine-particulate concentration levels of 2 to 4 micrograms per square meter, leading to a decline in premature mortality worth $127 million for the median city in 2019. “Our findings point to the substantial benefits of improving the availability and salience of air-quality information in low- and middle-income countries,” Jha and La Nauze write.

News coverage of the US government’s Beijing pollution monitoring sparked the researchers’ interest, La Nauze says. At the time, American diplomats were quoted saying that the embassy’s tweets led to marked changes in pollution levels in Beijing. When the researchers learned that the US State Department had extended the program to embassies around the world, they thought there might be a way to evaluate the diplomats’ claims empirically.

A problem the researchers confronted was how to quantify the impact of measuring something that had never been measured before…(More)” – See also: US Embassy Air-Quality Tweets Led to Global Health Benefits

Gaming Public Opinion

Article by Albert Zhang , Tilla Hoja & Jasmine Latimore: “The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) embrace of large-scale online influence operations and spreading of disinformation on Western social-media platforms has escalated since the first major attribution from Silicon Valley companies in 2019. While Chinese public diplomacy may have shifted to a softer tone in 2023 after many years of wolf-warrior online rhetoric, the Chinese Government continues to conduct global covert cyber-enabled influence operations. Those operations are now more frequent, increasingly sophisticated and increasingly effective in supporting the CCP’s strategic goals. They focus on disrupting the domestic, foreign, security and defence policies of foreign countries, and most of all they target democracies.

Currently—in targeted democracies—most political leaders, policymakers, businesses, civil society groups and publics have little understanding of how the CCP currently engages in clandestine activities online in their countries, even though this activity is escalating and evolving quickly. The stakes are high for democracies, given the indispensability of the internet and their reliance on open online spaces, free from interference. Despite years of monitoring covert CCP cyber-enabled influence operations by social-media platforms, governments, and research institutes such as ASPI, definitive public attribution of the actors driving these activities is rare. Covert online operations, by design, are difficult to detect and attribute to state actors. 

Social-media platforms and governments struggle to devote adequate resources to identifying, preventing and deterring increasing levels of malicious activity, and sometimes they don’t want to name and shame the Chinese Government for political, economic and/or commercial reasons…(More)”.

AI translation is jeopardizing Afghan asylum claims

Article by Andrew Deck: “In 2020, Uma Mirkhail got a firsthand demonstration of how damaging a bad translation can be.

A crisis translator specializing in Afghan languages, Mirkhail was working with a Pashto-speaking refugee who had fled Afghanistan. A U.S. court had denied the refugee’s asylum bid because her written application didn’t match the story told in the initial interviews.

In the interviews, the refugee had first maintained that she’d made it through one particular event alone, but the written statement seemed to reference other people with her at the time — a discrepancy large enough for a judge to reject her asylum claim.

After Mirkhail went over the documents, she saw what had gone wrong: An automated translation tool had swapped the “I” pronouns in the woman’s statement to “we.”

Mirkhail works with Respond Crisis Translation, a coalition of over 2,500 translators that provides interpretation and translation services for migrants and asylum seekers around the world. She told Rest of World this kind of small mistake can be life-changing for a refugee. In the wake of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, there is an urgent demand for crisis translators working in languages such as Pashto and Dari. Working alongside refugees, these translators can help clients navigate complex immigration systems, including drafting immigration forms such as asylum applications. But a new generation of machine translation tools is changing the landscape of this field — and adding a new set of risks for refugees…(More)”.

China’s fake science industry: how ‘paper mills’ threaten progress

Article by Eleanor Olcott, Clive Cookson and Alan Smith at the Financial Times: “…Over the past two decades, Chinese researchers have become some of the world’s most prolific publishers of scientific papers. The Institute for Scientific Information, a US-based research analysis organisation, calculated that China produced 3.7mn papers in 2021 — 23 per cent of global output — and just behind the 4.4mn total from the US.

At the same time, China has been climbing the ranks of the number of times a paper is cited by other authors, a metric used to judge output quality. Last year, China surpassed the US for the first time in the number of most cited papers, according to Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, although that figure was flattered by multiple references to Chinese research that first sequenced the Covid-19 virus genome.

The soaring output has sparked concern in western capitals. Chinese advances in high-profile fields such as quantum technology, genomics and space science, as well as Beijing’s surprise hypersonic missile test two years ago, have amplified the view that China is marching towards its goal of achieving global hegemony in science and technology.

That concern is a part of a wider breakdown of trust in some quarters between western institutions and Chinese ones, with some universities introducing background checks on Chinese academics amid fears of intellectual property theft.

But experts say that China’s impressive output masks systemic inefficiencies and an underbelly of low-quality and fraudulent research. Academics complain about the crushing pressure to publish to gain prized positions at research universities…(More)”.

Common Data Environment: Bridging the Digital Data Sharing Gap Among Construction Organizations

Paper by Yong Jia Tan et al: “Moving into the 21st century, digital data sharing is pertinent towards the construction industry technology advancement. Preeminent digital data sharing revolves around construction organizations’ effective data management and digital data utilization within the Common Data Environment (CDE). Interconnected data is the heart of the construction industry’s future digital utility. Albeit the progressive digitalization uptake, the absence of integrated digital data collaboration efforts due to working-in-silo facet impedes the Malaysian construction organizations capability to capitalize the technology potential at best. To identify the types of digital data and the potential of digital data sharing through Common Data Environment within the Malaysian construction industry, this study adopts thematic analysis methodology on five in-depth case study on CDE adoption among construction organizations. The presented case study further identified through snowball sampling method. The analysis reveals the three main data categories created by construction organization in CDE are graphical data, non-graphical data, and associated construction project documents. Findings further identifies eight potentials of CDE data sharing namely improved efficiency, productivity, collaboration, effective decision making, cost and time savings, security, and accessibility. Ultimately, this study presents insights and explorative avenues for construction stakeholders to transcend advanced technology maximization and boost the industry productivity gain…(More)”.

Why we need to unlock health data to beat disease worldwide

Article by Takanori Fujita, Masayasu Okajima and Hiroyuki Miuchi: “The digital revolution in healthcare offers the promise of better health and longer lives for people around the world. New digital tools can help doctors and patients to predict, prevent and treat disease, opening the door to personalised medical care that is cost-efficient and highly effective.

Digitization across the entire healthcare sector — from hospital operations to the production of medical devices, vaccines and other pharmaceuticals — stands to benefit everyone, through improved efficiency at medical institutions, better care at home and stronger support for everyday health and wellbeing.

The essential ingredient in digital healthcare is data. Developers and service providers need health data to build and deploy effective solutions. So far, unfortunately, the potential benefits of digital healthcare have been under-realized, in large part because of data chokepoints…

It should go without saying that the ‘reward’ for sharing data is better health. Lifestyle-related diseases, which are more prevalent in ageing populations, often do not become symptomatic until they have progressed to a dangerous level. That makes timely monitoring and assessment crucial. In a world where people are living longer and longer— ‘100-year societies,’ as we say in Japan — data-enabled early detection is perhaps the best tool we have to stave off age-related health crises.

Abstract arguments, however, rarely convince people to consent to sharing personal data. Special efforts are needed to show specific, individual benefits and make people feel a tangible sense of control.

In Japan, the city of Arao is conducting an experiment to enable patients and their families to check information on electronic health records (EHRs) using their smartphones when they visit affiliated hospitals. Test results, prescribed medications and other information can be monitored. The system is expected to reduce costs for municipalities that are struggling to fund medical and nursing care for growing elderly populations. The money saved can be diverted to programs that help people live healthier lives, creating a virtuous cycle….Digital healthcare isn’t just a matter for patients and medical professionals. Lifestyle data with implications for health is broadly distributed, so the non-medical field needs to be involved as well. Takamatsu, another Japanese city, is attempting to address this difficult issue by building a common data collaboration infrastructure for the public and private sectors.

SOMPO Light Vortex, a subsidiary of SOMPO Holdings, a Japanese insurance and nursing care company, has created an app for Covid-19 vaccination certification and personal health records (PHRs) that is connected to Takamatsu’s municipal data infrastructure. Combining a range of data on health and lifestyle patterns in a trusted platform overseen by local government is expected to offer benefits in areas ranging from disaster prevention to wellbeing…(More)”.

What China’s Algorithm Registry Reveals about AI Governance

Article by Matt Sheehan, and Sharon Du: “For the past year, the Chinese government has been conducting some of the earliest experiments in building regulatory tools to govern artificial intelligence (AI). In that process, China is trying to tackle a problem that will soon face governments around the world: Can regulators gain meaningful insight into the functioning of algorithms, and ensure they perform within acceptable bounds?

One particular tool deserves attention both for its impact within China, and for the lessons technologists and policymakers in other countries can draw from it: a mandatory registration system created by China’s internet regulator for recommendation algorithms.

Although the full details of the registry are not public, by digging into its online instruction manual, we can reveal new insights into China’s emerging regulatory architecture for algorithms.

The algorithm registry was created by China’s 2022 regulation on recommendation algorithms (English translation), which came into effect in March of this year and was led by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). China’s algorithm regulation has largely focused on the role recommendation algorithms play in disseminating information, requiring providers to ensure that they don’t “endanger national security or the social public interest” and to “give an explanation” when they harm the legitimate interests of users. Other provisions sought to address monopolistic behavior by platforms and hot-button social issues, such as the role that dispatching algorithms play in creating dangerous labor conditions for Chinese delivery drivers…(More)”

China just announced a new social credit law. Here’s what it means.

Article by Zeyi Yang: “It’s easier to talk about what China’s social credit system isn’t than what it is. Ever since 2014, when China announced a six-year plan to build a system to reward actions that build trust in society and penalize the opposite, it has been one of the most misunderstood things about China in Western discourse. Now, with new documents released in mid-November, there’s an opportunity to correct the record.

For most people outside China, the words “social credit system” conjure up an instant image: a Black Mirror–esque web of technologies that automatically score all Chinese citizens according to what they did right and wrong. But the reality is, that terrifying system doesn’t exist, and the central government doesn’t seem to have much appetite to build it, either. 

Instead, the system that the central government has been slowly working on is a mix of attempts to regulate the financial credit industry, enable government agencies to share data with each other, and promote state-sanctioned moral values—however vague that last goal in particular sounds. There’s no evidence yet that this system has been abused for widespread social control (though it remains possible that it could be wielded to restrict individual rights). 

While local governments have been much more ambitious with their innovative regulations, causing more controversies and public pushback, the countrywide social credit system will still take a long time to materialize. And China is now closer than ever to defining what that system will look like. On November 14, several top government agencies collectively released a draft law on the Establishment of the Social Credit System, the first attempt to systematically codify past experiments on social credit and, theoretically, guide future implementation. 

Yet the draft law still left observers with more questions than answers. 

“This draft doesn’t reflect a major sea change at all,” says Jeremy Daum, a senior fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center who has been tracking China’s social credit experiment for years. It’s not a meaningful shift in strategy or objective, he says. 

Rather, the law stays close to local rules that Chinese cities like Shanghai have released and enforced in recent years on things like data collection and punishment methods—just giving them a stamp of central approval. It also doesn’t answer lingering questions that scholars have about the limitations of local rules. “This is largely incorporating what has been out there, to the point where it doesn’t really add a whole lot of value,” Daum adds. 

So what is China’s current system actually like? Do people really have social credit scores? Is there any truth to the image of artificial-intelligence-powered social control that dominates Western imagination? …(More)”.