AI, artificial intelligence, Bloomberg.com, China, hacking, Karen Weise, Microsoft, national security, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Paul Mozur, technology, technology transfer, The New York Times, Trump
Wow! This was quite the revealing – and disturbing – nugget buried in a recent New York Times article about American tech companies’ trials and tribulations in China! According to reporters Paul Mozur and Karen Weise, Microsoft’s “long-established research and development center has turned out valuable products and launched the careers of a generation of artificial-intelligence experts who have started important new companies in China.”
Mozur and Weise mentioned this Microsoft activity in order to make the important point that even companies, like the Seattle software giant, that have bent over backwards to remain viable in China by keeping Beijing happy in various ways seem to be fighting a losing battle. For even these firms are falling victim to China’s persistent desire to replace them in the country’s huge market with Chinese rivals.
But the reference to Microsoft’s artificial intelligence operations could well matter more to the United States because it underscores a point I made several years ago in a Bloomberg.com op-ed that bears on American national security: For decades, U.S. tech companies have been transferring to Chinese entities cutting edge knowhow that has greatly strengthened Beijing’s ability to endanger key American interests. It’s the price they need to pay to keep playing in the Chinese market. But whatever the commercial justification, and whether these transfers are voluntary, coerced, or somewhere in between (including the training of China’s tech workforce), they’ve too long been neglected by American policymakers.
My Bloomberg piece focused on technologies related to cyberhacking – where transfers ironically were coming back to bite the U.S. tech firms themselves. Since then, in several posts for RealityChek, I’ve covered tech transfer that’s handing China more conventional advanced defense-related knowhow. (See, e.g., here and here.)
But artificial intelligence-related operations push the threat to an entirely new level. For these capabilities will likely be the biggest game-changers in national security for decades, and Washington is already so alarmed by the progress China has made that many specialists worry that Beijing could soon forge ahead. Nearly as troubling: The more such tech American companies keep handing over to the Chinese, the closer China gets to self-sufficiency – the point at which it won’t need American assistance anymore.
The Trump administration rightly keeps calling attention to China’s growing technological prowess and the resulting dangers to the United States, and even many long-time supporters of the reckless pre-Trump China engagement policies are starting to agree.
But tariffs to punish predatory Chinese policies aimed at building tech dominance, and curbs on Chinese tech investments in the U.S. economy are necessary, not sufficient responses. The above linked Financial Times article indicates the administration now recognizes need to staunch the flow of advanced knowhow to China by American companies. But every minute new curbs are delayed, the United States will keep feeding the beast.