Is China at an advantage in the AI race because of GDPR?

Machine learning needs data, lots of it.  GDPR is designed to protect the human right to privacy. But this means data might be more freely available in China than in say the UK. So, is China at an advantage in the AI race?

There are parts of the world where privacy is not quite held in such high esteem as it is in Europe.

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The first anniversary of GDPR may have been and gone, but the data/machine learning revolution marches on. PwC projects that AI will be worth $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. But China seems to be moving into pole position in the AI race. AI, or its more practical iteration: machine learning, needs data. It’s hunger for data is seemingly without limits. The more data available, the more scope there is to develop machine learning and build expertise.

Given GDPR and western concerns about privacy, might China be at an advantage in the AI race? In the West, might we have to choose between human rights and economic prosperity?

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It is a scary dilemma — one that no one wants.

At a recent conference held by the think tank Parliament Street and in the hallowed rooms of the Palace of Westminster, Information Age put that question to a panel of experts on AI/machine learning,

Professor Chris Huyck, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, Middlesex University, said that he was indeed concerned: “The Chinese have an incredible advantage, they can watch their citizens really carefully, they can lock them up in concentration camps.”

Does that mean that the price we pay for worrying about privacy is that the UK, Europe, the US and democracies around the world will also be second best to China as the fourth industrial revolution gathers steam?

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Professor Huyck says that he wants to be positive and that “the freedom approach we have, makes us more creative and innovative,” he adds a suffix — “maybe.”

Guy Cohen from ‘privacy engineering company,’ Privitar, says that the “UK could become the world leader in ethical AI” He says that there is “reason to be confident that the UK’s approach to personal liberties, will have certain benefits not seen elsewhere.”

Why is that? He questions whether data collected in a regime in which privacy is not respected might not be accurate — people may deliberately mislead. “Would a system in which people give misleading data be less reliable? he asks.

Abigail Dubiniecki, a speaker and educator, and privacy specialist at My Inhouse Lawyer put it differently, but the sentiments were the same. “Garbage in, garbage out,” she said.

Well the GDPR anniversary has passed, the regulation is a year old. Let’s hope respect for customers privacy does indeed become a unique selling point, a key benefit organisations must have; let’s hope that ‘privacy by design,’ ‘ethics by design’, ‘security by design’ and ‘trust by design’ become must haves for successful organisations battling in the fourth industrial revolution. If the dream of being able to combine adherence to the idea that privacy is a human right and economic success is achievable, then maybe firms that don’t adhere to it, will go out of the business arena, just like garbage.

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Michael Baxter

.Michael Baxter is a tech, economic and investment journalist. He has written four books, including iDisrupted and Living in the age of the jerk. He is the editor of and the host of the ESG...