When people living in all the furthest reaches of the globe think about technology, tech companies and emerging fields like artificial intelligence, they overwhelmingly end up at Silicon Valley.
It’s for good reason. The cradle of many important innovations, including much of what birthed the modern Internet, was there in that California basin.
So when the Commerce Department released a list of technologies that were under consideration for inclusion in new export rules due to their relationship with national security interests, a lot of people sat up and took notice.
An Artificial Intelligence Embargo?
Since the beginning of rumblings of trade tensions between the United States and China, the government has been making a lot of lists.
Lists of things with 25 percent tariffs, things with 10 percent tariffs and products that can’t be traded for any amount of money. That category includes things far more valuable than steel or corn, like hugely influential tech that could literally change the face of civilization.
Artificial Intelligence has made the U.S.’s list of non-tradables, much to the shock and frustration of developers across the country. Much of the research into artificial intelligence is done on a global, not a local, scale. Even that research that is home-grown will eventually make its way to a research repository like Arxiv.org. Basically, the people on the ground argue that there’s no way to embargo artificial intelligence.
Why AI Came Up in Trade War Talk in The First Place
AI is a technology that is considered dual-use.
That basically means that there are both commercial applications, primarily safe and useful for the general public, and military applications, which are not that great for the public somewhere. While the Commerce Department is much less concerned with Siri’s brain being swiped by a Chinese intelligence officer, it is far more concerned about the brains of a smart weapon being copied.
The problem is teasing the two apart. R. David Edelman, an MIT technology policy researcher, told The New York Times that “trying to draw a line between what is military and what is commercial is exceedingly difficult. It may be impossible.”
In addition, Federal regulations generally exempt publicly available information from this kind of export ban. The Commerce Department wants to forbid the export of this globally developed, publicly accessible technology, creating a huge conundrum.
Even if the department succeeds in the ban, it’s only going to be hurting Americans, since many of the greatest minds in the field live in other countries. Not being able to collaborate with these people is far more likely to give potentially hostile countries a leg up than publishing the AI that controls Waymo’s cars.