February 09, 2018

China’s massive investment in artificial intelligence has an insidious downside

Featuring Elsa B. Kania

Source: Science Magazine

Journalist Christina Larson

BEIJING—In a gleaming high-rise here in northern Beijing's Haidian district, two hardware jocks in their 20s are testing new computer chips that might someday make smartphones, robots, and autonomous vehicles truly intelligent. A wiry young man in an untucked plaid flannel shirt watches appraisingly. The onlooker, Chen Yunji, a 34-year-old computer scientist and founding technical adviser of Cambricon Technologies here, explains that traditional processors, designed decades before the recent tsunami of artificial intelligence (AI) research, "are slow and energy inefficient" at processing the reams of data required for AI. "Even if you have a very good algorithm or application," he says, its usefulness in everyday life is limited if you can't run it on your phone, car, or appliance. "Our goal is to change all lives."

In 2012, the seminal Google Brain project required 16,000 microprocessor cores to run algorithms capable of learning to identify a cat. The feat was hailed as a breakthrough in deep learning: crunching vast training data sets to find patterns without guidance from a human programmer. A year later, Yunji and his brother, Chen Tianshi, who is now Cambricon's CEO, teamed up to design a novel chip architecture that could enable portable consumer devices to rival that feat—making them capable of recognizing faces, navigating roads, translating languages, spotting useful information, or identifying "fake news."

Read the full article here.

  • Elsa B. Kania

    Adjunct Fellow, Technology and National Security Program

    Elsa B. Kania is an Adjunct Fellow with the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her research focuses on Chinese military...