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China just announced a new social credit law. Here’s what it means.

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China just announced a new social credit law. Here’s what it means.


To this end, the latest draft law talks about the need to use “diverse methods such as statistical methods, modeling, and field certification” to conduct credit assessments and combine data from different government agencies. “It gives only the vaguest hint that it’s a little more tech-y,” says Daum.

How are Chinese tech companies involved in this system?

Because the system is so low-tech, the involvement of Chinese tech companies has been peripheral. “Big tech companies and small tech companies … play very different roles, and they take very different strategies,” says Shazeda Ahmed, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, who spent several years in China studying how tech companies are involved in the social credit system.

Smaller companies, contracted by city or provincial governments, largely built the system’s tech infrastructure, like databases and data centers. On the other hand, large tech companies, particularly social platforms, have helped the system spread its message. Alibaba, for instance, helps the courts deliver judgment decisions through the delivery addresses it collects via its massive e-commerce platform. And Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, partnered with a local court in China to publicly shame individuals who defaulted on court judgments. But these tech behemoths aren’t really involved in core functions, like contributing data or compiling credit appraisals.

“They saw it as almost like a civic responsibility or corporate social responsibility: if you broke the law in this way, we will take this data from the Supreme People’s Court, and we will punish you on our platform,” says Ahmed.

There are also Chinese companies, like Alibaba’s fintech arm Ant Group, that have built private financial credit scoring products. But the result, like Alibaba’s Sesame Credit, is more like a loyalty rewards program, according to several scholars. Since the Sesame Credit score is mostly calculated on the basis of users’ purchase history and lending activities on Alibaba’s own platforms, the score is not reliable enough to be used by external financial institutions and has very limited effect on individuals.

Given all this, should we still be concerned about the implications of building a social credit system in China?

Yes. Even if there isn’t a scary algorithm that scores every citizen, the social credit system can still be problematic.

The Chinese government did emphasize that all social-credit-related punishment has to adhere to existing laws, but laws themselves can be unjust in the first place. “Saying that the system is an extension of the law only means that it is no better or worse than the laws it enforces. As China turns its focus increasingly to people’s social and cultural lives, further regulating the content of entertainment, education, and speech, those rules will also become subject to credit enforcement,” Daum wrote in a 2021 article.

Moreover, “this was always about making people honest to the government, and not necessarily to each other,” says Ahmed. When moral issues like honesty are turned into legal issues, the state ends up having the sole authority in deciding who’s trustworthy. One tactic Chinese courts have used in holding “discredited individuals” accountable is encouraging their friends and family to report their assets in exchange for rewards. “Are you making society more trustworthy by ratting out your neighbor? Or are you building distrust in your very local community?” she asks.

But at the end of the day, the social credit system does not (yet) exemplify abuse of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, and it’s important to evaluate it on the facts. The government is currently seeking public feedback on the November draft document for one month, though there’s no expected date on when it will pass and become law. It could still take years to see the final product of a nationwide social credit system.

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The Download: generative AI for video, and detecting AI text

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The original startup behind Stable Diffusion has launched a generative AI for video


The original startup behind Stable Diffusion has launched a generative AI for video

What’s happened: Runway, the generative AI startup that co-created last year’s breakout text-to-image model Stable Diffusion, has released an AI model that can transform existing videos into new ones by applying styles from a text prompt or reference image.

What it does: In a demo reel posted on its website, Runway shows how the model, called Gen-1, can turn people on a street into claymation puppets, and books stacked on a table into a cityscape at night. Other recent text-to-video models can generate very short video clips from scratch, but because Gen-1adapts existing footage it can produce much longer videos.

Why it matters: Last year’s explosion in generative AI was fueled by the millions of people who got their hands on powerful creative tools for the first time and shared what they made, and Runway hopes Gen-1 will have a similar effect on generated videos. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Why detecting AI-generated text is so difficult (and what to do about it)

Last week, OpenAI unveiled a tool that can detect text produced by its AI system ChatGPT. But if you’re a teacher who fears the coming deluge of ChatGPT-generated essays, don’t get too excited.

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Why detecting AI-generated text is so difficult (and what to do about it)

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Why detecting AI-generated text is so difficult (and what to do about it)


This tool is OpenAI’s response to the heat it’s gotten from educators, journalists, and others for launching ChatGPT without any ways to detect text it has generated. However, it is still very much a work in progress, and it is woefully unreliable. OpenAI says its AI text detector correctly identifies 26% of AI-written text as “likely AI-written.” 

While OpenAI clearly has a lot more work to do to refine its tool, there’s a limit to just how good it can make it. We’re extremely unlikely to ever get a tool that can spot AI-generated text with 100% certainty. It’s really hard to detect AI-generated text because the whole point of AI language models is to generate fluent and human-seeming text, and the model is mimicking text created by humans, says Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, a professor who oversees research in natural-language processing and machine learning at the University of British Columbia

We are in an arms race to build detection methods that can match the latest, most powerful models, Abdul-Mageed adds. New AI language models are more powerful and better at generating even more fluent language, which quickly makes our existing detection tool kit outdated. 

OpenAI built its detector by creating a whole new AI language model akin to ChatGPT that is specifically trained to detect outputs from models like itself. Although details are sparse, the company apparently trained the model with examples of AI-generated text and examples of human-generated text, and then asked it to spot the AI-generated text. We asked for more information, but OpenAI did not respond. 

Last month, I wrote about another method for detecting text generated by an AI: watermarks. These act as a sort of secret signal in AI-produced text that allows computer programs to detect it as such. 

Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a neat way of applying watermarks to text generated by AI language models, and they have made it freely available. These watermarks would allow us to tell with almost complete certainty when AI-generated text has been used. 

The trouble is that this method requires AI companies to embed watermarking in their chatbots right from the start. OpenAI is developing these systems but has yet to roll them out in any of its products. Why the delay? One reason might be that it’s not always desirable to have AI-generated text watermarked. 

One of the most promising ways ChatGPT could be integrated into products is as a tool to help people write emails or as an enhanced spell-checker in a word processor. That’s not exactly cheating. But watermarking all AI-generated text would automatically flag these outputs and could lead to wrongful accusations.

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The original startup behind Stable Diffusion has launched a generative AI for video

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The original startup behind Stable Diffusion has launched a generative AI for video


Set up in 2018, Runway has been developing AI-powered video-editing software for several years. Its tools are used by TikTokers and YouTubers as well as mainstream movie and TV studios. The makers of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert used Runway software to edit the show’s graphics; the visual effects team behind the hit movie Everything Everywhere All at Once used the company’s tech to help create certain scenes.  

In 2021, Runway collaborated with researchers at the University of Munich to build the first version of Stable Diffusion. Stability AI, a UK-based startup, then stepped in to pay the computing costs required to train the model on much more data. In 2022, Stability AI took Stable Diffusion mainstream, transforming it from a research project into a global phenomenon. 

But the two companies no longer collaborate. Getty is now taking legal action against Stability AI—claiming that the company used Getty’s images, which appear in Stable Diffusion’s training data, without permission—and Runway is keen to keep its distance.

Gen-1 represents a new start for Runway. It follows a smattering of text-to-video models revealed late last year, including Make-a-Video from Meta and Phenaki from Google, both of which can generate very short video clips from scratch. It is also similar to Dreamix, a generative AI from Google revealed last week, which can create new videos from existing ones by applying specified styles. But at least judging from Runway’s demo reel, Gen-1 appears to be a step up in video quality. Because it transforms existing footage, it can also produce much longer videos than most previous models. (The company says it will post technical details about Gen-1 on its website in the next few days.)   

Unlike Meta and Google, Runway has built its model with customers in mind. “This is one of the first models to be developed really closely with a community of video makers,” says Valenzuela. “It comes with years of insight about how filmmakers and VFX editors actually work on post-production.”

Gen-1, which runs on the cloud via Runway’s website, is being made available to a handful of invited users today and will be launched to everyone on the waitlist in a few weeks.

Last year’s explosion in generative AI was fueled by the millions of people who got their hands on powerful creative tools for the first time and shared what they made with them. Valenzuela hopes that putting Gen-1 into the hands of creative professionals will soon have a similar impact on video.

“We’re really close to having full feature films being generated,” he says. “We’re close to a place where most of the content you’ll see online will be generated.”

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