US, China agree to meet in Switzerland to discuss most pressing issue of all: AI use

No negotiations on tech sanctions, just talks about not destroying the world

American and Chinese officials will meet in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday to try and broker a deal for the two countries to get on the same page concerning AI and potential restrictions on its use.

The US will reportedly be represented by Tarun Chhabra and Dr Seth Center, who are respectively from the US National Security Council and the State Department's acting special envoy for critical and emerging technology. Meanwhile, Chinese officials from the Foreign Ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission will head the Middle Kingdom's delegation.

The US government expects the talks to cover a wide range of issues concerning AI. Both sides will have a chance to air their grievances over how the other is implementing machine learning technology.

However, the meeting will not cover anything in the way of America's advanced-tech sanctions against China, which have been a major sticking point in the diplomatic relationships between the two countries. This means the conference likely doesn't represent a warming of relations, but rather is a pragmatic attempt to find some common ground.

Use of AI in the military will undoubtedly be one of the topics discussed in the meeting, as DARPA makes advances in AI-operated military craft, something that China is probably keen to replicate. Additionally, earlier this month the United States asked China and Russia to pledge to never use AI in decision-making for nuclear weapons, and although a US official didn't confirm the meeting would cover this topic, it wouldn't be surprising if it came up.

The talks will factor into international attempts to create rules and regulations for the use of AI, which has garnered increasing traction as the industry continues to experience a boom. Earlier this month, Japan threw its hat in the ring and detailed its proposal for an international framework for AI regulations. Some 48 other countries have signed onto the Hiroshima AI Process, including the US, the EU and its members, the UK, and South Korea.

However, as most signatories of the Japanese framework are aligned with the US and EU, it seems unlikely that the group will achieve global support. China may choose to propose its own competing framework, but that doesn't necessarily mean the two superpowers won't be able to agree on some important issues.

"We certainly don't see eye-to-eye with the PRC on many AI topics and applications, but we believe that the communication on critical AI risks can make the world safer," a US official said.

The two countries have been able to work together a little on addressing AI at an international scale. In March, the US introduced a resolution at the UN that called for "safe, secure and trustworthy" AI, and it passed with China's support. The resolution was merely a statement and wasn't legally binding, so finding a firm agreement on more specific matters may be more challenging. ®

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