China introduced its first ethical guidelines governing AI last week as it seeks to become the global industry leader by 2030.

China Recommends Keeping AI Control in Human Hands for Future

While the tech world reels from the recent revelations concerning Facebook and Instagram’s alleged “profits over safety” policies, there is some interesting AI news out of China.

The Chinese have made some big decisions regarding AI and the consumer’s exposure to algorithms of any kind. It’s heavily based on the ethics of companies using AI on unknowing or non-consenting individuals.

The South China Morning Post,, released a story about the direction the Chinese authorities plan on taking their nation’s AI programs by the end of this decade.

Although it sounds like a positive take on an extremely powerful technology, it also leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Especially considering China’s history of intellectual property theft and oppression of free speech.

But the new guidelines say upfront:

“Humans should have full decision-making power, the guidelines state, and have the right to choose whether to accept AI services, exit an interaction with an AI system or discontinue its operation at any time.”

The document was published by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) last Sunday. The goal is to “make sure that artificial intelligence is always under the control of humans,” the guidelines state.

The first question we ask is are these guidelines or laws with consequences?

“This is the first specification we see from the [Chinese] government on AI ethics,” said Rebecca Arcesati, an analyst at the German think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics). “We had only seen high-level principles before.”

More Control By Authorities?

The guidelines, titled “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Ethics Specifications” are an expansion on a program of guidelines for AI begun by the same government agency back in 2019. This new list contains references to human beings remaining in control of AI at all times. Experts who have reviewed the paper say it is very forward-looking in its scope and what Beijing sees as AI’s role in the near and the distant future.

The document outlines six basic principles for AI systems, including ensuring that they are “controllable and trustworthy.” The other principles are improving human well-being, promoting fairness and justice, protecting privacy and safety and raising ethical literacy.

The emphasis on protecting and empowering users reflects Beijing’s efforts to exercise greater control over the country’s tech sector. One of the latest moves in the year-long crackdown has been targeting content recommendation algorithms, which often rely on AI systems built on collecting and analyzing massive amounts of user data.

Analysts expect a similar crackdown on U.S. tech companies. The enormous size and the power that social media companies have amassed worries governments around the globe, which are beginning to respond with sanctions. For example, a recent fine imposed on Google France shows some are ready to crack down on their unfettered domination of the internet.

France’s competition regulator fined Google $267 million for favoring its own services for placing online ads at the expense of rivals. And there are many more laws being written to try and place some sort of limits on giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon.

Now it seems the Chinese are trying to point the way ethically with these AI guidelines, which frankly, we have not been used to.