A new set of regulations on AI recommendation algorithms went into effect in China on March 1 in an attempt to introduce unprecedented oversight and inject transparency and accountability into an opaque industry. This is the first case of a major economy enforcing such sweeping rules on the machine, and the world is watching.
China’s new AI regulation is part of an ambitious government-led tech reset that started in late 2020, which saw the introduction of laws in data privacy, data security, antitrust, and more. The latest round of AI regulation marks another monumental step toward building the type of squeaky-clean internet that Chinese regulators envision.
Poorly designed AI could lead to negative consequences.
Without broader oversight, algorithms could knowingly, or unknowingly, damage not only individual consumer experience but also social well-being at large.
The Chinese government has been concerned about algorithmic bias—systematic errors that create unfair outcomes privileging one group of users over another. Tech companies have allegedly charged consumers different prices for the same item or for ride-hailing services.
But AI is here to stay.
Here are a few key takeaways for tech companies and marketers from the new regulation:
Can China set the standard for the regulation of AI?
While China’s AI governance model is unlikely to be cut and pasted into another country due to the differences in local politics and business environments, it is a grand undertaking worthy of observation and providing some inspiration.
However, it is uncertain whether there will ever be a perfectly unbiased AI, as the system is always going to be vulnerable to some degree of human subjectivity. The November 2021 launch of the Shanghai Data Exchange promises greater access to data by creating a pilot for a data marketplace for tech companies, but an era of unbiased datasets may be more of a goal than an achievable reality.
Platforms and marketers in China will have to take a long-term view and find creative approaches to AI. At times, they will also have to endure short-term pain for long-term gain. For example, since October, TikTok’s Chinese sister app Douyin has featured mandatory 5-second pauses that urge users to take a break after long sessions, per South China Morning Post.
Of course, issues will arise, loopholes will surface, and amendments will come. For now, regulators in China have made their priority clear: market fairness, consumer protection, and national security.