Maybe losing the AI race to China isn’t such a bad idea

Two people in hard hats stand outside an electrical substation power facility behind a rolling robotic sensor.
An artificially intelligent robot inspects power lines in Chunzhou, China. | Song Weixing/Visual China Group via Getty Images

A top Pentagon software official recently quit his job, claiming that the US is dragging its heels.

The Pentagon’s first-ever chief software officer abruptly quit earlier this month, and now we know exactly why: Nicolas Chaillan, former CSO of the United States Air Force and Space Force, told the Financial Times that the United States has “no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years” when it comes to cyberwarfare and artificial intelligence.

Chaillan, a 37-year-old tech entrepreneur, added that cyber defenses at many government agencies are at “kindergarten level,” and that companies like Google were doing the US a disservice by not working with the military more on AI, since Chinese companies were making a “massive investment” in AI without getting all hung up on the ethics of it all. And while quitting your job because America has already lost the AI race is a bit dramatic, Chaillan isn’t the only one who’s concerned about China’s dominance in this arena.

We can all agree that nobody wants China to invent a real-world version of Skynet, the all-powerful AI that takes over the planet in the Terminator movies. But we don’t want the US to do that either. But what does the finish line in this AI race actually look like? And does the US really want to win at all costs?

For years, pundits have been comparing the AI race to the space race — and warning that the US is losing it. It’s a handy analogy, since it helps Americans put current conflicts with countries like China and Russia into the familiar context of the Cold War. Many have argued that we’ve found ourselves in a second Cold War and that the country that wins the AI race will take the throne as the dominant superpower. But the AI revolution isn’t just about fighting wars or geopolitical dominance. What we’re racing to build will transform almost every aspect of our lives, from how we run businesses to how we process information to how we get around.

So it’s imperative that the US is thoughtful about quickly charging into a future filled with autonomous cars, boundless data collection, and full-time surveillance. These are the applications that next-generation AI will enable, and if a small group of powerful tech companies and/or the US military pushes for innovation without putting the proper guard rails in place, this world-changing technology could lead to some grim unintended consequences. President Biden called for the US and Europe to work together on developing new technology responsibly in a February speech at the Munich Security Conference.

“We must shape the rules that will govern the advance of technology and the norms of behavior in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, biotechnology so that they are used to lift people up, not used to pin them down,” Biden said. “We must stand up for the democratic values that make it possible for us to accomplish any of this, pushing back against those who would monopolize and normalize repression.

You could also look to present-day China to see what the near future of a more AI-centric society might look like. As Kai-Fu Lee argues in his book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, China has been more aggressive at implementing AI breakthroughs, especially in surveillance and data collection applications, thanks in part to government support and a lack of oversight that’s let some tech companies there leapfrog the competition and dominate entire industries. WeChat and its parent company, Tencent, are perfect examples of this. On WeChat, privacy does not seem to be a priority, but the vast quantities of data the app can collect are certainly helpful for training AI.

“Imagine, if you will, that Facebook acquired Visa and Mastercard and integrated everything into the functions, as well as invested money into Amazon and Uber and OpenTable and so on and so forth, and made an ecosystem that once you log into Facebook, all these things are one click away and then you could pay for them with another click,” Lee told New York magazine. “That is the kind of convenience that WeChat brought about, and its true worth is the gigantic data set of all the user data that goes through it.”

This is the sort of winning-at-all costs approach that appears to give China a leg up in the AI race. China also appears to be playing catch-up when it comes to establishing standards for algorithmic ethics. Just last week, the country issued its first-ever guidelines on AI ethics. The US has long known that algorithms can be racist or sexist, and the Pentagon adopted its guidelines on ethical AI nearly two years ago. And as we’ve learned more recently, the AI that companies like Facebook and YouTube use to serve up content can also be used to radicalize people and undermine democracy. That’s why — especially in the wake of Facebook’s whistleblower scandal that revealed internal research showing that its products were harmful to some users, including teenage girls — lawmakers in the US lately seem more interested in talking about how to regulate algorithms than how to beat China in the AI race.

The two things aren’t mutually exclusive, by the way. Chaillan, the former military software chief, has certainly earned his right to an opinion about how quickly the US is developing its cyber defenses and artificially intelligent computers. And now that he’s taking his knowledge of how the Pentagon works to the private sector, he’ll probably make good money addressing his concerns. For the rest of us, the rise of AI shouldn’t feel like a race against China. It’s more like a high-stakes poker game.

This story first published in the Recode newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss the next one!

We might get a System Shock live-action series before System Shock 3

System Shock TV series key art: a poster of SHODAN.

A live-action System Shock series is apparently on the table for games-focused streaming platform Binge, marking a third attempt at reviving the classic space horror series.

Deadline has offered a few details about the project, including that it will be executive produced by executives from NightDive — a studio and retro games publisher that acquired the remarkably tangled rights to System Shock in 2013. It’s being produced by Binge chief content officer Allan Ungar, and it’s supposed to be part of Binge’s original content lineup as the platform prepares for a 2022 launch.

There’s a heavy emphasis on “supposed to” here because System Shock adaptations have a troubled history. NightDive successfully released the long-unavailable 1994…

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Apple TV+ to reach more than 35 million subscribers by 2026

What you need to know

Apple TV+ could reach 35.6 million subscribers by 2026.
Disney+ could pass Netflix as the largest streaming service as soon as 2025.

Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video will control the world.

Apple TV+ could take until 2026 to pass 35 million subscribers.

As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, new data from research firm Digital TV Research projects that Apple’s streaming service will reach 35.6 million users by that year.

Behind that, it estimates that China’s Tencent will end 2026 with 98.7 million users, China’s iQiyi with 76.8 million and HBO with 76.3 million subscribers. Meanwhile, Apple TV+ will record 35.6 million users then.

That same report went on to say that Disney+ is on pace to pass Netflix and become the dominant streaming service as soon as 2025 and reach over 284 million users in 2026.

Research firm Digital TV Research shared the prediction in a report, projecting that the number of subscribers to Disney+ would reach 284.2 …

Apple TV+ may have 35.6M users by 2026, TV analysts predict

Apple TV+ could hit 35.6 million users by the end of 2026, roughly seven years after it debuted, according to estimates published by a television research firm.

Credit: AppleCredit: Apple

The analysis firm, Digital TV Research, has released a report predicting subscriber and user numbers for the largest streaming platforms. According to the report, seen by The Hollywood Reporter, three platforms will control nearly half of the video-on-demand market by 2026.

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Alibaba adds Tencent’s WeChat Pay to some of its apps, excluding its flagship e-commerce Taobao app, after Beijing called for interoperability (Bloomberg)

Alibaba adds Tencent’s WeChat Pay to some of its apps, excluding its flagship e-commerce Taobao app, after Beijing called for interoperability  —  – Tencent had earlier allowed external links on WeChat  — China pressures tech giants to dismantle ‘walled gardens’