Authoritarian Regimes’ AI Innovation Advantage

Daniel Oberhaus in Harvard Magazine:

FOR THE PAST DECADE, China has led the world in advanced-facial recognition systems. Chinese companies dominate the rankings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Face Recognition Vendor Test, considered the accepted standard for judging the accuracy of these systems, and Chinese research papers on the subject are cited almost twice as often as American ones. Many experts recognize the importance of facial-recognition and other artificial-intelligence applications for promoting future economic growth through productivity gains, which makes understanding how China came to dominate this field a competitive concern. And after years of research, Harvard assistant professor of economics David Yang believes he’s discovered an explanation for the Chinese companies’ advantage.

In a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Yang and his colleagues found that authoritarian states like China may have an inherent and decisive advantage over liberal democracies in facial-recognition innovation. Their secret? The flow of massive amounts of surveillance data to private AI companies that develop facial-recognition software for local police departments.

More here.