Title: The Rise of AI and Political Control in China
Resistance to innovation is often seen as a weakness in authoritarian regimes, but a recent study conducted by MIT professor Martin Beraja suggests a different perspective. In China, the government has embraced AI-driven facial recognition technology to suppress dissent, successfully limiting protests and spurring the development of advanced AI tools. This phenomenon, referred to as an “AI-tocracy,” showcases the interconnected cycle where increased use of AI technology quells dissent and fosters innovation. The study, titled “AI-tocracy,” delves into this intriguing topic and its implications for authoritarian governments.
Examining the data:
To understand the relationship between political unrest and AI utilization, the researchers analyzed data spanning several years. They utilized the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) Project to identify over 9,000 instances of political unrest in China between 2014 and 2020. Additionally, they studied almost 3 million procurement contracts issued by the Chinese government from 2013 to 2019.
The Impact of Facial Recognition Technology:
The study found that local governments rapidly increased the procurement of facial recognition AI services and high-resolution video cameras following episodes of public unrest. Although the direct effect of this technology on political unrest is challenging to estimate, the researchers observed a correlation between regions heavily invested in facial recognition technology and reduced protest levels. Facial recognition technology proved effective in chilling dissent.
Moreover, the researchers discovered that increased demand for AI translated into considerable growth in China’s tech sector. Firms receiving procurement contracts for facial recognition technologies exhibited a 49% increase in software production two years after obtaining the government contract.
The research highlights how autocratic governments, like China, can leverage technological advancements to enhance their political power rather than facing potential uprisings. By embracing AI-driven tools, authoritarian regimes achieve a near-equilibrium state where their control is strengthened. This finding provides additional insight into the correlation between forms of government, economic growth, and technological innovation.
The Way Forward:
The scholars continue to explore related aspects of this subject, with a forthcoming paper investigating China’s export of advanced facial recognition technologies worldwide. This research sheds light on the mechanisms through which government repression can grow on a global scale.
The study conducted by MIT professor Martin Beraja sheds light on China’s strategic deployment of AI-driven facial recognition technology to suppress dissent and spur innovation. The concept of an “AI-tocracy” emerges, showcasing how increased AI usage strengthens political control while simultaneously driving the country’s technology sector. This research adds valuable insights into the intersection of AI, political economy, and societal applications.