“Exporting the Surveillance State via Trade in AI" with Martin Beraja, Andrew Kao, David Y. Yang

We document three facts about the global diffusion of surveillance AI technology, and in particular, the role played by China. First, China has a comparative advantage in this technology. It is substantially more likely to export surveillance AI than other countries, and particularly so as compared to other frontier technologies. Second, autocracies and weak democracies are more likely to import surveillance AI from China. This bias is not observed in AI imports from the US or in imports of other frontier technologies from China. Third, autocracies and weak democracies are especially more likely to import China’s surveillance AI in years of domestic unrest. Such imports coincide with declines in domestic institutional quality more broadly. To the extent that China may be exporting its surveillance state via trade in AI, this can enhance and beget more autocracies abroad. This possibility challenges the view that economic integration is necessarily associated with the diffusion of liberal institutions.