How does the rapid digitization change Chinese society and how is winning the international competition over Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data-applications? These were the questions discussed at the Trier China Talks at the Federal Academy for Security Policy (Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik) in Berlin on December 3, 2018.
The social and economic developments in China connected to digitization and AI were the focus of the first expert panel. Sophie-Charlotte Fischer of the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich explained the factors leading to China’s success in these fields: the provision of large amounts of venture capital, the application-focused development of technologies and the development of secondary technologies around AI companies. Handelsblatt journalist und book author Stephan Scheuer pointed out that central planning and optimization of economic processes had once again become a realistic option in China with the help of algorithms, especially in the real estate sector.
Whereas Chinese society is known to be open to innovation, Kristin Shi-Kupfer, director of the research area on public policy and society at MERICS, stressed that digitization and the introduction of AI-based technologies were not unobjected within Chinese society. According to surveys, more than half of Chinese citizens are concerned about the protection of their personal data. The acceptance of the Social Credit System, which rates individual behavior based on algorithms and aims to influence it through a combination of incentives and sanctions, is harder to assess at this point. A centralized system does not yet exist, and local versions differ widely in their range and application.
With a view to the rapid and state-led digitization and AI development in China all three experts stressed the necessity for Europe to increase its efforts in promoting innovation and developing common standards in these fields if it does not want to be overtaken by China.
When it comes to high quality research on AI, Germany currently still holds a competitive over China, as the second expert panel revealed. Hans Uszkoreit, scientific director at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, noted that China was already quite advanced in relevant fields of research. He cautioned, however, that projects were often geared towards short-term success and not towards developing future technologies. According to him, Europe faces the opposite problem: it is well positioned in research, but lagged behind in the application of new technologies.
If Germany wants to stay ahead in the field of AI, it will need a comprehensive, long-term and strategic plan to finance technological research and development, said Uszkoreit. In his view, this is the only way to prevent talent from migrating to the United States or even to China.
For China, Germany remains an important supplier for the development of innovative technologies such as AI, said Thomas Pattloch, head of the IP group with the China group of law firm Taylor Wessing. According to him, it will be key that German companies enjoy equal market access and the same opportunities as Chinese companies in Germany when entering R&D cooperations with China. He advised German companies and research institutions to take special care to protecting their intellectual property when dealing with China.
The city of Duisburg is actively seeking the cooperation with Chinese high-tech partners in its attempt to transform the former steel production center in Germany’s “Rust Belt,” the Ruhr Valley, into a “smart city.” The government signed a MoU with Huawei in January 2018. Martin Murrack, in charge of China relations in the city government, stressed that it would be harder in the future to forego high-tech products from China. He noted that many German companies had given up the competition for developing the 5G communication standard, leaving the leading position to Huawei.
The Trier China Talks convene experts from business, politics and the media. They are a cooperation between the Federal Academy for Security Policy, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Friends of Trier University and the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS).
The first picture of the gallery was provided by the Federal Academy for Security Policy. All other prictures were provided by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.