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The Rise of Artificial Intelligence Is Reigniting an Old Concern Among U.S. Companies: Chinese Spying

  • Companies like Google and OpenAI have started to implement more stringent screening processes.

  • The U.S. government claims that Chinese espionage results in multibillion-dollar losses annually.

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The U.S. has accused China of engaging in technological espionage for many years. A 2021 report by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) estimated that annual losses due to intellectual property theft by China to be between $200 billion and $600 billion. “And that’s been going on for the last 20 years,” the acting director of the NCSC said in an interview with CBS.

Despite the seriousness of the matter, the U.S. government hadn’t showed heightened concerns about Chinese spying for a while. However, as reported by Financial Times, officials are now raising alarm at the potential risks in the competition to lead in the development of artificial intelligence. This has led to increased pressure on the private sector to enhance measures to protect their proprietary information.

Silicon Valley on Alert due to Chinese Spying

The recent alarming trend in Washington involves China using workers as spies to steal confidential information from the companies that employ them. This tactic is similar to what China has reportedly done in other countries, including the U.S. This type of espionage has allegedly already targeted companies such as ASML in the Netherlands and SK Hynix in South Korea.

In response, as reported by the outlet, high-profile U.S. companies like Google and OpenAI are tightening their recruitment processes to enhance internal security and privacy. They’re screening profiles more thoroughly to prevent the hiring of individuals who might leak sensitive information, which could lead to potential economic losses.

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Implementing these stricter measures isn’t a simple task, though, especially for companies with a large workforce. This is especially tricky in the fast-paced field of AI, where qualified personnel are needed. To address this challenge, some corporations are adopting a tool called Strider.

This AI-powered system collects information about potential foreign intelligence recruitment attempts aimed at scientists who can leak sensible data to them. If a person appears in the Strider system, the company that's considering hiring them can conduct additional research into their family and financial ties. However, it’s important to note that practices that are excessively thorough may risk crossing legal boundaries.

While the U.S. is currently leading in AI development, China is working to catch up. Beijing has implemented several measures, from producing its own graphics processing units (GPUs) for data centers to developing advanced language models. Reportedly, espionage is also playing a significant role in China’s efforts to advance in the field.

Image | Chris Yang | Bernard Hermant

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