“Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” Lenin supposedly said. It’s a lesson Google, and America as a whole, may soon learn the hard way in dealing with Communist China.
A few weeks ago, Eric Schmidt, who led Google from 2001 to 2015, testified before Congress that the Chinese Communist Party is quickly becoming a major threat on technology, especially artificial intelligence, or AI.
“I am convinced that the threat of Chinese leadership in key technology areas is a national crisis,” he said. “AI will be leveraged to advance all dimensions of national power — from health care to food production to environmental sustainability . . . Within the next decade, China could surpass the United States as the world’s AI superpower.”
Schmidt was right to sound the alarm. But he stopped short of naming one of the main culprits: Google.
In 2017, Google opened an artificial-intelligence laboratory in Beijing. The company is also collaborating on AI with two top-tier Chinese universities.
Opening an AI lab was quite a turnaround for Google. The company had previously abandoned mainland China in 2010, after the Beijing regime demanded that Schmidt and his colleagues censor their search engine.
Why the flip? Money.
By 2017, recounts New York Times journalist Cade Metz in his new book, “Genius Makers,” “Google was having second thoughts about China. The market was too big to ignore.”
Having wised up to the dangers posed by Beijing’s totalitarians, Google decided to sell them rope anyway.
Worse, far from fulfilling the techno-utopian dream of spreading American values to the ends of the earth and facilitating a more open world — remember the early 2000s? — Google and other tech giants have now implemented one of Communist China’s core principles in the US homeland, namely, censorship.
Despite being a victim of unfair censorship in China, Google is now wielding the stick here in America. Google was one of several monopolistic Big Tech companies that helped purge Twitter alternative Parler from the Internet in January.
Parler’s offense was supposedly not policing its user content aggressively enough. But the same — or worse — could have been said of Google.
In 2019, reporters and activists pointed out that Google-owned YouTube’s algorithm promoted over-sexualized content involving children. “A network of pedophiles is hiding in plain sight” at YouTube, warned Wired magazine. The problem had plagued YouTube for years. By Google’s own standards, YouTube ought to have been taken off-line.
Bottom line: We need pro-American tech companies. Google’s China saga reveals the stakes.
One is an open Internet. China censors news, criticism and free speech. Chinese-style censorship of Web sites or apps is a threat to the Internet itself if it is applied by Google or other Big Tech companies outside China.
The second is the question of who controls our century, China or the United States.
In 2018, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin predicted: “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere [AI] will become the ruler of the world.”
The Chinese government recognizes this through its “Made in China 2025” policy. The goal is to dominate 10 high-tech fields in the next four years. AI is one of the 10.
With those stakes, US companies have a duty not to help a totalitarian adversary in any plausible way. Even though Google has said publicly that it doesn’t work with the Chinese military, at the end of the day, it simply has no control over how its tech in China is used.
In China, unlike in the United States, there is no bright line dividing private enterprise and the regime. Businesses in China — and the technology they develop — are made to serve the Communist Party’s ends.
A major challenge for the Biden administration will be how to reclaim and secure our supply chains for critical goods. That should include medicine and other strategic commodities. But it shouldn’t stop there: We can’t permit Beijing to dominate the global flow of information and, with it, our ability to think freely.
Our government and corporations should be aligned on this principle: America mustn’t sell our long-term future for short-term gains. We can’t afford to sell rope to those who’d use it to hang us.
Rick Berman is president of the American Security Institute.
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