Communist Chinese Gov’t-Tied TikTok Jumps Into AI Arms Race

May 26th, 2023 5:00 PM

Communist Chinese government-tied TikTok is beginning to test a new artificial intelligence chatbot even as experts warn about the dangers of AI.

TikTok announced Thursday that it was testing a Tako chatbot in the Philippines, making the Chinese Communist Party-tied app the latest social media giant to jump into the AI arms race. According to The Washington Post, TikTok is already “an AI-programmed version of television,” meaning the chatbot represents only a new phase in the popular app’s AI use. But with TikTok’s history of censorship and ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), AI tools could well be the next danger to free speech and data privacy on TikTok.

“It was only a matter of time until the communist Chinese government-tied TikTok got in on the AI arms race,” said MRC Free Speech America & MRC Business Director Michael Morris. “As if the platform weren’t problematic enough already, now Americans have to worry about ever-more expansive bias and censorship. American lawmakers should heed experts’ warnings about the risks surrounding both AI and the invasive anti-free speech TikTok app.”

TikTok’s communications account tweeted about the new development on May 25. “We're in the early stages of exploring chatbot tools with a limited test of Tako with select users in the Philippines,” TikTokComms wrote. “Tako is an AI-powered tool to help with search and discovery on TikTok.” The account added that, “Tako is powered by a third-party chat assistant and is designed to help make it easier to discover entertaining and inspiring content on TikTok. No current plans for this beyond these early tests, but we're excited to hear your feedback!”

While it is unclear if TikTok intends to expand Tako or similar AI chatbots to other countries like the U.S., it seems likely. Microsoft, Google and Snapchat are among the Big Tech companies pushing AI. But TikTok’s venture into AI is particularly concerning. The app has been labeled a national security risk by multiple experts and lawmakers due to the CCP owning a board seat and a financial stake in its Chinese parent company ByteDance.

There is also a danger that TikTok could develop more AI tools to facilitate its censorship and data collection. In China, the CCP is already instituting strict government regulation of AI. Could that potentially affect TikTok in future?

The Post noted that companies seem eager to use AI even if users aren’t thrilled, as when Snapchat users complained about the prominence of the app’s chatbot. Even fast food restaurants are looking to use AI, according to The Post. But while AI might be exciting, and offer increased convenience, it can easily be used for much more dangerous activities.

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