China Is a Techno-Dictatorship. The U.S. Must Ban China's Access to AI | Opinion

China's ambition to become an AI superpower by 2030 is well documented. The country has made significant investments in AI research and development. But there are growing concerns about how China is using AI, particularly facial recognition, to create a super-surveillance police state that it uses against Uyghur Muslims and other minority groups.

Reports have emerged of Uyghurs and other minority groups being subjected to mass surveillance, with cameras and AI systems being used to track their movements and monitor their activities. In some cases, individuals have been detained and imprisoned based on data collected by these systems with little or no due process.

Indeed, Orwell himself could not imagine such a perfectly oppressive system. The Chinese government's use of AI and facial recognition technology is a blatant abuse of power and a violation of fundamental human rights.

Even more disturbing is the fact that China's use of AI and facial recognition technology is not limited to its own borders. The country is exporting this technical infrastructure to autocratic countries around the world, helping them become techno dictatorships. Surveillance technology from China has been exported to places like Venezuela, Ecuador, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. This is a deeply troubling development, as it allows these regimes to further tighten their grip on power and suppress dissent, just like China.

People hold up flags and signs during a protest in Washington, DC on February 5, 2023. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

The export of AI and facial recognition technology to autocratic countries is just one example of how China is increasingly threatening the free world. It is also weaponizing its economic might to bully smaller countries, and it's engaging in cyber espionage and intellectual property theft. These actions undermine the rule of law and the principles of free and fair trade that undergird the global economy, and they pose a threat to the stability and security of the international system.

In light of these developments, the U.S. must take action to protect its interests and those of its allies. Specifically, the U.S. should ban China from buying certain military technologies that could further enable its development of AI and other similar technologies.

While this may seem like a drastic measure, it is a necessary one in light of China's aggressive behavior and its record of deploying technology for nefarious purposes, both within and outside its borders.

The latest chatter generated by China's "spy balloon" may seem frivolous, but such intrusions by Beijing signals deeper ambitions by China to extend the scope of its techno-espionage. Consider TikTok, the most used social media platform in the Western world, created by the China-based company ByteDance. The company harvests massive amounts of data that it insists are stored only on servers inside of the U.S. and Singapore, but based on multiple verified leaks, we know this data has been accessed many times by engineers inside China itself. Beijing's reach is never far off.

Even ChatGPT, the latest chatbot to take the internet by storm, will eventually be weaponized by the Chinese Communist Party. GPT is a powerful AI language model that has the ability to generate human-like text and has a wide range of potential applications, including in the field of automation and content creation.

Allowing China access to GPT and other advanced AI technologies would give the country a significant advantage and increase its ability to spread disinformation and manipulate public opinion.

It is essential that the U.S. and its allies take steps to prevent China from obtaining these technologies.

China's ambition to become an AI superpower must be met with vigilance and caution. The country has made significant progress in the field, and its use of AI and facial recognition technology to create a super surveillance state and its export of this technology to autocratic countries cannot continue.

China is now the foremost techno-dictatorship in the world, and it wants to replicate this model around the globe. The U.S. and its allies must take action to protect their interests and prevent China from using such technologies to hold the free world hostage.

Kuzzat Altay is a leading Uyghur American businessman, tech entrepreneur, and human rights activist. He is the Founder and CEO of Cydeo and a Harvard Business Alum. He previously served as President of the Uyghur American Association.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.