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China splurges $280 Million to create an AI Supermind that trolls global scientists

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

China’s new Supermind AI will be a game changer that helps the country identify new scientific breakthroughs and use them to advance the country’s global tech ambitions.

 

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China, in its quest to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing, and stay ahead of others, is building a vast, Artificial Intelligence (AI) based intelligence platform dubbed “Supermind” to track millions of scientists and researchers around the world so it can hoover up breakthrough technologies for industry and the military, according to a person with close knowledge of the project and public sources reviewed by Newsweek.

 

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The state-funded platform, which says it uses sophisticated AI systems to help find talent for China, is under construction in a new “information and intelligence” center that began work last year in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen. The city is home to global tech brands such as Huawei, ZTE and Tencent— some of which have been sanctioned by the US government on national security and human rights grounds.

The effort, revealed by Newsweek, has been called “Supermind” by the state-controlled Shenzhen Special Zone Daily and the AMiner University Fund linked to Tsinghua University that offers grants for it.

With $280 million invested mostly by the Shenzhen government, according to the person with close knowledge of the project, it represents a step in China’s efforts to win a global technology competition with the United States. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said China must become “a great power in science and technology” and achieve overall global pre-eminence by 2049.

 

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“They are building a database of ‘Who’s Who’ in different areas,” said the person with knowledge of the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity.

“For example you can ask it, ‘I need five particular experts in this area who are top talents.’ Then you approach them all,” the person said.

Winning the race for world-changing technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and semiconductors could define the future international balance of power, geopolitical analysts and technology experts say.

The new platform, which is the centerpiece of the International Science and Technology Information Center (ITIC) in Shenzhen, says it will offer users 300 million global science and technology research papers and 120 million patents, as well as locate 130 million global scholars or “human talents” to scrutinise their work down to the finest detail in order to use it -either by hiring them or other means. The system will be constantly updated. It will include the next-door cities of Hong Kong and Macau in its networks, but only people with a Shenzhen IP address can use it.

 

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The platform uses AI to mine about a dozen of the world’s leading science and technology databases including ones belonging to Springer, Wiley, Clarivate, and Elsevier, the center’s website says. Hundreds of millions of data points build a “three-dimensional scientific and technological information and intelligence service system to support the national strategy of strengthening the country in science and technology,” creating a “global map of scientific and technological talents in all fields” that serves the Chinese government, industry and businesses, research institutes and universities.

Tyler Du, the director of ITIC’s Operations Department, told Newsweek people working at the center were too busy to grant an interview..

“This decision is due to our team’s current focus on ongoing projects, which are in critical stages and require our full attention,” Du said via E-Mail. He offered to answer further questions but did not reply to follow-up E-Mails. The center’s website does not offer any telephone numbers.

Last April, the Chinese government restricted much outside access to China’s leading scientific database, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), part of a growing effort to stop non-Chinese from gaining Chinese data in line with recent data and counterespionage laws. While some access is possible some of the time the database is unreliable, creating difficulties for researchers.

 

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The US ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, said this week Chinese police had raided “six or seven” US businesses in China, mostly consultancies, since last March, accusing some of espionage, national security offences, or stealing military secrets, in an apparent effort to shut down their access to Chinese data.

China is not alone in seeking to use new artificial intelligence tools to gather information from around the world. Last year Randy Nixon, the head of the US CIA Open Source Enterprise division, told Bloomberg that the CIA was developing an AI-based tool, part of a push to gather more “open-source information.” According to a person with knowledge of the matter, this includes information on science and technology. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is also involved in the push for more open source information gathering, the person said. The CIA did not respond to a request for comment, and the ODNI said there was “not much we can offer at this time one way or another.”

The new Chinese platform is associated with multiple “security intelligence” organisations in China both nationally and locally. One partner, the Key Laboratory of New Technologies of Security Intelligence in Guangdong Province – where Shenzhen is located – works to “secure cyberspace” and maintain “social stability.”

The new platform is also networked with dedicated state “data security” organisations, the AI developer Pengcheng Laboratory, the China National Gene Bank, and BGI, a genomics company, according to the website. The US government is considering banning genomics companies from China with the Biosecure Act, concerned about misuse of technology and its impact on human rights.

 

 

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New AI tools are of immense value in sorting out the great volume of open-source science and technology information, said William C. Hannas, a lead analyst at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology who has written widely on the subject.

“Some private U.S. companies are already using this model to good effect,” he said.

Kevin Gamache, the Chief Research Security Officer at Texas A&M University, said the Chinese platform openly touts its “intelligence” aspect, as well as focusing on international “talent recruitment.”

“I have not seen anything that compares to it,” said Gamache, who also manages the university’s relationships with the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

“Maybe the U.S. government has something like that. If they do it’s not out in the open, and I’m not aware of it. It’s going to allow China to make much better decisions,” he said. “It could be identifying technologies that aren’t apparent on the surface.”

 

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“For sure, they’re going to use it for to conduct targeted recruitment, or to place people in specific labs to gain access to knowledge and technology that is not yesterday’s technology but tomorrow’s, or even the next decade’s, technology,” Gamache said.

China has long placed top students and scientists in laboratories in the United States, part of a decades-old system to catch up and overtake the U.S. The White House has identified China as America’s main long-term competitor and strategic challenger in all areas.

The appearance of ambitious new AI-based open-source databases in both the US and China was logical given their competition, said Hannas, adding that the Chinese database’s use of the word “intelligence” should be understood as seeking “information of use to the state” between classified intelligence and open source.

ITIC says it will focus on spotting talent and gathering information in eight key areas – cells and genes, synthetic biology, blockchain computing, space technology, brain science and brain-like intelligence, deep earth and deep sea, visible optical communications and computing, and quantum physics.

With China’s economy hit by other factors in recent years, the knowledge to fuel “future industries” sought by the new tool has become even more important to the Chinese government.

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