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Yi-Ling Liu’s essay on China’s use of AI in its education system highlights two ethical issues: privacy and accessibility. On the privacy side, AI-enabled education systems collect, store and analyse students’ facial expressions, although this is pending further regulation, to identify how students are responding to the content being taught by the system. In addition to the pervasive privacy implications this has for individuals, there are the legal implications of these individuals being minors. This is expected to be addressed, at least partially, by the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Minors, which is being amended to include cyberspace.

Many other countries are facing similar predicaments, which UNICEF is working to address by advancing children’s rights in the age of AI. The approach that the Chinese government is taking to addressing the privacy vulnerabilities of children in the application of AI in public services is also in line with other international efforts. If anything, China’s rush to deploy AI-enabled education throughout the country is magnifying such privacy efforts and underscoring the importance of their implementation.

The ethical issue of accessibility to China’s AI-enabled education applications is shaped by its rural-urban divides. With advanced technology being less available in rural areas, the efficacy of these applications for rural education efforts is put into question. This is further exacerbated by the lack of teaching capacity to supplement areas of educational enrichment not provided by AI. While improved access to some unified education resources is granted, this still falls short of the high level of education and resources accessible in urban schools.

Urban-rural education divides are being tackled through AI in other countries, too, of course. What does make China stand out is the scale of its ambition as it leads the way with extensive, government-backed efforts to introduce AI in public education services. As such, the solutions that China is testing now will diffuse into other developing countries later, making them a pressing global concern.


Danit Gal

Technology advisor to the UN Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation and associate fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University …