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China’s Short-Sighted AI Regulation

From the government to the courts, Chinese authorities have become fixated on ensuring that the country can surpass the US to become the global leader in artificial intelligence, no matter the cost. They seem not to realize just how high that cost may turn out to be.

PARIS – The Beijing Internet Court’s ruling that content generated by artificial intelligence can be covered by copyright has caused a stir in the AI community, not least because it clashes with the stances adopted in other major jurisdictions, including the United States. In fact, that is partly the point: the ruling advances a wider effort in China to surpass the US to become a global leader in AI.

Not everyone views the ruling as all that consequential. Some commentators point out that the Beijing Internet Court is a relatively low-level institution, operating within a legal system where courts are not obligated to follow precedents. But, while technically true, this interpretation misses the point, because it focuses narrowly on Chinese law, as written. In the Chinese legal context, decisions like this one both reflect and shape policy.

In 2017, China’s leaders set the ambitious goal of achieving global AI supremacy by 2030. But the barriers to success have proved substantial – and they continue to multiply. Over the last year or so, the US has made it increasingly difficult for China to acquire the chips it needs to develop advanced AI technologies, such as large language models, that can compete with those coming out of the US. President Joe Biden’s administration further tightened those regulations in October.