The Cafeteria Approach

If there’ is a better example of what I think of as the “cafeteria approach” to policy, it would be difficult to find a better example than Matt Sheehan’s article at Foreign Policy on the lessons the U. S. federal government should take from China’s approach to regulating artificial intelligence. The “cafeteria approach” is the idea that it is possible to select certain features from other countries’ approaches to solving problems without adopting all of them and despite our, well, being a different country. It’s encountered most frequently in laments of why the United States can’t have Scandinavian social policies. Combine that cafeteria approach with naïveté and you’ve pretty much got this article.

It ignores things like Chinese society being much more cohesive than ours, it not having independent courts, the control the state imposes on Internet connectivity, and a host of others. Note that I’m not saying that China’s strategy for dealing with AI won’t work in China. The jury is out but perhaps it will. The question is whether the Chinese approach would work in the United States. Frankly, I doubt it.

Here’s a snippet from the article:

The clearest difference between the nascent congressional approach and China’s regulations lies in their scope. Schumer is leading a push for comprehensive AI legislation that would address the technology’s impact on national security, jobs, misinformation, bias, democratic values, and more. That approach is praiseworthy for its ambition, but cramming solutions to all of these problems into a single piece of legislation is almost impossible. The contours of these problems are just coming into focus, and the interventions needed to address each issue may prove wildly different.

By contrast, the Chinese government has taken a targeted and iterative approach to AI governance. Instead of immediately going for one all-encompassing law that covers all of AI, China has picked out specific applications that it was concerned about and developed a series of regulations to tackle those concerns. That has allowed it to steadily build up new policy tools and regulatory know-how with each new regulation. And when China’s initial regulations proved insufficient for a fast-moving technology like AI, it quickly iterated on them.

I suspect that Sen. Schumer is taking the approach he is because he believes, likely correctly, that he will get at most one bite from the apple. The iterative approach being suggested would be blocked at every step by the courts. You’d spend a fortune on defending the government’s position and at the be left with very little.

2 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    I think there is a lot of space between enacting another countries policies wholesale and learning from what other countries do. In this case China may be a good source of what not to do as much or more than what to do.


  • Walt moffett Link

    Will fret in the zeal to combat misinformation, bias and democratic values additional blocks for the MinTrue building are set

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