Humans should have full decision-making power, the guidelines state, and have the right to choose whether to accept AI services, exit an interaction with an AI system or discontinue its operation at any time. The document was published by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) last Sunday.
The goal is to “make sure that artificial intelligence is always under the control of humans,” the guidelines state.
“This is the first specification we see from the [Chinese] government on AI ethics,” said Rebecca Arcesati, an analyst at the German think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics). “We had only seen high-level principles before.”
The guidelines, titled “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Ethics Specifications”, were drafted by an AI governance committee, which was established under the MOST in February 2019. In June that year, the committee published a set of guiding principles for AI governance that was much shorter and broader than the newly released specifications.
The document outlines six basic principles for AI systems, including ensuring that they are “controllable and trustworthy”. The other principles are improving human well-being, promoting fairness and justice, protecting privacy and safety, and raising ethical literacy.
The emphasis on protecting and empowering users reflects Beijing’s efforts to exercise greater control over the country’s tech sector. One of the latest moves in the year-long crackdown has been targeting content recommendation algorithms, which often rely on AI systems built on collecting and analysing massive amounts of user data.
The new AI guidelines are “a clear message to tech giants that have built entire business models on recommendation algorithms”, Arcesati said.
However, the changes are being done in the name of user choice, giving users more control over their interactions with AI systems online, an issue other countries are also grappling with. Data security, personal privacy and the right to opt out of AI-driven decision-making are all mentioned in the new document.
Preventing risks requires spotting and addressing technical and security vulnerabilities in AI systems, making sure that relevant entities are held accountable, the document says, and that the management and control of AI product quality are improved.
The guidelines also forbid AI products and services from engaging in illegal activities and severely endangering national security, public security or manufacturing security. Neither should they be able to harm the public interest, the document states.