China Is Stealing AI Secrets to Turbocharge Spying, U.S. Say

On a July day in 2018, Xiaolang Zhang headed to the San Jose, Calif., airport to board a flight to Beijing.

He had passed the checkpoint at Terminal B when his journey was abruptly cut short by federal agents.

After a tipoff by Apple’s security team, the former Apple employee was arrested

and charged with stealing trade secrets related to the company’s autonomous-driving program.

It was a skirmish in a continuing shadow war between the U.S. and China for supremacy in artificial intelligence.

The two rivals are seeking any advantage to jump ahead in mastering a technology

with the potential to reshape economies, geopolitics and war.

Artificial intelligence has been on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of critical U.S. technologies to protect,

just as China placed it on a list of technologies it wanted its scientists to achieve breakthroughs on by 2025.

China’s AI capabilities are already believed to be formidable,

but U.S. intelligence authorities have lately made new warnings beyond the threat of intellectual-property theft.

Instead of just stealing trade secrets, the FBI and other agencies believe China could use AI to gather

and stockpile data on Americans at a scale that was never before possible.