China has been accused of stealing US trade secrets time and time again. Back in 2018, an Apple employee was arrested on his way to his flight to China for a charge of stealing trade secrets related to the company’s autonomous-driving program.
But following the boom of generative AI, it’s not just trade secrets, but AI technology as well that China is trying to steal, believes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other agencies. FBI believes that China could be using AI to collect data on Americans on a scale that was never possible before.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, while speaking at a press conference earlier this year, said that China has been accused of data theft multiple times over the years and AI could be used as an “amplifier” to support further hacking operations.
He said: “Now they are working to use AI to improve their already-massive hacking operations using our own technology against us.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation classifies artificial intelligence as a crucial U.S. technology that needs safeguarding, paralleling China’s objective to propel its scientists towards significant advancements in AI by 2025. China’s prowess in AI is already considered significant. However, recent alerts from U.S. intelligence agencies have expanded concerns, moving beyond the risks of intellectual property theft to encompass broader security implications.
This incident represents an ongoing clandestine battle for AI dominance between the U.S. and China. Both nations are fervently pursuing any edge that could catapult them to the forefront in mastering a technology poised to transform economies, geopolitical landscapes, and the nature of warfare.
Concerns regarding China’s potential use of AI have intensified significantly over the past year. This heightened apprehension prompted a meeting in October, where the FBI director and heads of other Western intelligence agencies convened with leading figures in the AI industry to address these issues.
Worries have grown to a point that AI companies now fear that their secrets might make it to China. In a notable incident, OpenAI contacted the FBI following an internal investigation into a former employee’s laptop, which triggered suspicions of potential intellectual property transfer to China. Sources familiar with the situation disclosed that subsequent inquiries cleared the employee of these suspicions.
Microsoft believes that China is already using AI to comb through stolen data sets to obtain personal information. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal:
“Initially the big question was did anyone, including the Chinese, have the capacity to use machine learning and fundamentally AI to federate these data sets and then use them for targeting. In the last two years we’ve seen evidence that that, in fact, has happened.