China’s Ministry of Science and Technology has released a set of ethical guidelines regarding artificial intelligence (AI), with a focus on enhancing user autonomy and protecting privacy. The release of AI-related regulations is a part of Beijing’s ambition to become a leader in the industry by 2030.

Titled “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Ethics Specifications,” the document outlines six basic ethical guidelines for implementing and using AI in society. It specifically points out that humans should have full decision-making power.

Other main points include the promotion of fairness, justice, harmony and security when using AI systems. This includes avoiding issues such as prejudice, discrimination, privacy breaches and information leakages.

The document, referred to as the “Code of Ethics”, was drafted by an AI governance committee and is the first of its kind in China. It aims to “enhance AI ethics and behavioural consciousness for the whole society, provide active guidance in responsible AI research and development and implement application activities that promote the healthy development of AI.”

The guidelines call for an enhancement of controllability and credibility, which states that “humans have full autonomous decision-making power and the right to choose whether to accept the services provided by AI and the right to withdraw from the interaction with an AI system at any time.”

This also includes the issue of responsibility. It points out that that human beings are ultimately responsible for adverse effects related to AI systems.

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In addition, the new guidelines call for an enhancement of overall “human well-being”. AI should be “people-oriented and follow the common values of mankind,” it reads.

Concerns over bias and discrimination were explicitly mentioned. “When providing AI products and services, we should fully respect and help disadvantaged groups,” the document points out.

It also calls for the enhancement of privacy and security protection. Users need to be given the right to know how their data is being handled and to consent to or reject the usage of AI systems. Personal data needs to be held in accordance with “the principles of lawfulness, fairness, necessity and integrity,” the document states.

Finally, the guidelines also call for an improvement in “ethical literacy”. It contends that more education is needed in the area of AI-related ethics.

The emphasis on protecting and enhancing user autonomy reflects Beijing’s endeavour to exercise more control over the country’s tech sector. Recently, the government has implemented a crackdown on content recommendation algorithms, which often rely on AI systems in analysing massive amounts of user data.

The tightening of user data-related regulations is part of an ongoing trend. In August, Beijing passed the Personal Information Protection Law, which will come into effect on November 1. Experts have pointed out that it is the country’s toughest regulation on data security yet. The legal guidelines are often compared to those of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), also adopted by the UK.

In 2017, China’s State Council announced an ambitious plan to overtake the US and become the world’s leading power in AI. The first phase, spearheaded by government guidance, specifies that the domestic industry should keep pace with AI technology, application, ethical guidelines and policy frameworks.

In the next step, Beijing will try to achieve major AI breakthroughs by 2025 and become a leading power in the field by the end of the decade.

The latest “Code of Ethics” has already come into force and will be revised in due time, according to the needs of economic and social development, as well as the development of AI.