A recent report by the U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has exposed the rifts policymakers are facing when deciding the involvement of Chinese students and researchers in the American AI industry. The report was submitted to the Congress by former Defense Deputy Secretary Bob Work and former chairman of Google Eric Schmidt.
Are Chinese students risky?
The commission has a unanimous concern about the possibility that China might surpass the U.S. in the research, development, and commercialization of artificial intelligence capabilities. The U.S. has thus far observed a policy of attracting as many talented foreign students as it can, since it was believed that this was essential to maintain innovation and dominance of the American tech industry.
However, the increasing risk of Chinese students and researchers spying and stealing U.S. technologies has made many lawmakers and intelligence agencies wary. This has had a negative effect in the sense that Chinese students have started looking elsewhere for studies, thereby potentially depriving the U.S. of a significant talent pool. The U.S. now has to make a difficult choice — limit the enrollment of Chinese students and risk damaging the tech sector or continue enrolling them to maintain leadership in technologies like AI.
“One of the things the commission investigated pretty carefully is how dependent we are on China today. The answer, which some people may not want to hear, is that we are dependent on Chinese researchers and Chinese graduate students… There’s a framing that somehow we could decouple all of those links and the report makes very clear, and the subsequent reports [will] make even stronger, such a decoupling at the human level would hurt the United States,” Schmidt said to Defense One.
Many people initially believed that welcoming Chinese students to the U.S. and exposing them to the freedoms of the country would be a good way to inspire them to oppose the Communist Party back home. However, such hopes have largely not yielded any fruits. Beijing maintains a tight grip over the students. In fact, they are advised not to spend too much time with American students and to maintain close contact with other Chinese in the U.S.
In a speech to senior national security and research policymakers, U.S. Democrat Senator Charles Schumer proposed that the U.S invest US$100 billion over the next five years on AI research. This would allow America to maintain its pace with Russia and China. Schumer warned that the matter should not be made a political topic.
“This should not be a partisan issue. This is about the future of America… This idea has support from some people very close to the president and very close to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R]… But thus far they have been unable to get their [principals’] full-throated support. Anyone here who has any relationship with those people or people near them should be pushing this,” he said in a statement (Science Mag).
Schumer wants investments in the field of 5G networks, robotics, quantum computing, biotechnology, and cybersecurity. In February, President Trump had issued an executive order asking DOD, NSF, and other agencies to divert more of their investments into AI-related applications. It also asked that they develop an action plan to protect America’s advantages in the AI industry.