China’s Tencent is pushing its artificial intelligence ethics vision on the global stage, a move that goes against its traditionally isolated style.
In an interview with the Financial Times, the technology company claimed that it preferred an ethics approach that integrated socially beneficial AI uses for medical or agriculture purposes and maintained a “social contract” between users and companies in a bid to govern how personal data is used.
“As our company gets larger in significance in our position in society, we should begin to question what’s the soul of the company,” Seng Yee Lau, Tencent’s chairperson and senior vice-president of group marketing and global branding.
According to Mr. Lau, Tencent summarized its vision of AI ethics with the saying “tech for good,” an idea based on Chinese philosophies and the notion of good emanating from within a person as opposed to being imposed by governments.
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Tencent’s recent move comes at the same time when western technology firms like Google have tried setting up AI ethics boards.
Nonetheless, some workers have said that they lack teeth, and even though technology giants might invest their money in security in a bid to safeguard the data, most employees have received pressure from their governments to hand over their data.
“Tencent created its AI for Social Good platform in January 2018, before Google launched a programme with the same name,” said Danit Gal of the Cyber Civilization Research Center at Keio University in Tokyo.
“They’re really not that far behind and have probably done more on this topic than other companies.”
Tencent operates WeChat, the payment and messaging platform that creates the foundation of China’s Internet.
The WeChat application is known for censoring keywords that seem politically sensitive, whereas in-house censors and deletes accounts and posts.
Mr. Lau poured praises to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, claiming it “was a huge inspiration” for Tencent. “Billions of users have entrusted us with their sensitive personal information, this is the reason we must uphold our integrity above the requirements of the law,” he said.
“As a Chinese company starting from a social network business, we actually care more about user privacy,” Mr. Lau added, describing how the entity has its team of hackers who are committed to spotting weaknesses in Tencent’s software. Tencent’s team, he said, has assisted Tesla in testing its systems.
The main difference between how western companies and Tencent approach AI ethics, Ms. Gal from the Cyber Civilization Research Center claimed, was that the China-based technology company’s approach “involves a variety of stakeholders like public interest groups, universities, even Buddhist monks.”
Mr. Lau said that his aim was moving beyond the terminology “corporate social responsibility,” claiming that “it assumes that I have to please the board, donate some money. That’s not right — if you are really in charge of corporate social responsibility, then you have to study the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development,” he said.
While talking during a recent event held in Dubai, Mr. Lau concentrated on the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations including eradicating extreme poverty