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Biden weighs crackdown on AI tech exports to China amid security fears

The Biden administration is evaluating unprecedented regulation of America's cutting-edge artificial intelligence industry, including restricting exports of advanced systems like ChatGPT to China, according to reports citing U.S. officials and internal deliberations.



The proposed measures, driven by national security concerns over potential military and cyber threats, could impose new export controls limiting China's access to proprietary AI models and training data. This would expand upon existing U.S. efforts over the past two years to impede China's acquisition of sophisticated AI chips and hardware.

Currently, major American AI developers like OpenAI, Google DeepMind and others face no government restrictions when selling their powerful, closed-source AI models and software globally. The lack of such controls has sparked worries both within government and the private sector about the potential for U.S. adversaries like China to repurpose the technology for cyber warfare, intelligence gathering or even biological weapons development.

"There are genuine fears that Beijing could exploit these systems in dangerous ways if left unchecked," one senior administration official told Reuters. "We have to get serious about stemming that risk through export controls and other mechanisms."

Specifically, the Commerce Department is weighing regulating "proprietary AI software" which keeps training data and code confidential and restricted. These closed models represent the core technology underpinning breakthrough AI systems like ChatGPT, which can generate human-like text, code and analysis on virtually any topic from its opaque underlying datasets.

Officials are considering using an October 2022 AI policy framework from the White House as the basis for determining which advanced models should face export restrictions. That order established computing power thresholds related to the resources required for AI training - potentially allowing controls once those thresholds are crossed by commercial developers.

Such a policy could initially focus only on unpublished, future AI models, since existing systems like Google's Gemini Ultra haven't yet reached those thresholds, though they are rapidly approaching that level. The Commerce Department has not finalized any formal rule proposals thus far.

While the controls would primarily target China due to its adversarial status and suspected efforts to acquire U.S. AI capabilities to bolster its military, the implications could be wider. The U.S. intelligence community has raised alarms about rogue nations or terrorist groups potentially harnessing advanced AI for cyber attacks or even biotechnology weapon development.

Regulating AI exports is an enormously complex challenge given the technology's exponential evolution and the open-source, globally collaborative nature of many AI research efforts. The Biden administration must weigh economic impacts to one of America's preeminent tech sectors against national security imperatives.

Even as it mulls AI trade restrictions, the administration has continued its multi-year crackdown on exports of cutting-edge semiconductors and tooling used in AI chip development to China. Rules proposed in 2023 would also force U.S. cloud providers to track and report instances of foreign entities using their services for large-scale AI training.

For proponents of aggressive AI export controls, the stakes are existential – preventing a world where America's own pioneering artificial intelligence is weaponized against its interests. But critics fear overly restrictive regulation could cripple a key U.S. technological advantage by shuttering global collaboration.

As historic new AI capabilities continue emerging at a relentless pace, the Biden administration faces pressure to establish governance guardrails before fearing it loses control altogether. How it balances economic and security interests will help shape the trajectory of AI's evolution.

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