ChatGPT, the chatbot designed by the San Francisco–based company OpenAI, has elicited excitement, some unease, and much wonderment around the world. In China, though, the U.S. bot and the artificial intelligence that makes it work represent a threat to the country’s political system and global ambitions. This is because chatbots such as ChatGPT revel in information—something the Chinese state insists on controlling.
The Chinese Communist Party keeps itself in power through censorship, and under its domineering leader, Xi Jinping, that effort has intensified in a quest for greater ideological conformity. Chatbots are especially tricky to censor. What they blurt out can be unpredictable, and when it comes to micromanaging what the Chinese public knows, reads, and shares, the authorities don’t like surprises.