Internet must have security, humanity, Apple chief Tim Cook tells China

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the opening ceremony of the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Apple Inc. chief executive Tim Cook has called for future Internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity.

Cook made the comments on Sunday (Dec 3) at the opening ceremony for China's World Internet Conference - an event designed to globally promote the country's vision of a more censored and controlled Internet. It's the second Chinese appearance in two months for the executive, who met President Xi Jinping in October.

"The theme of this conference - developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits - is a vision we at Apple share," Cook said.

"We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace."

Cook's comments come at a pivotal point for the company's future in China, which is now its biggest market outside of North America. It relies on the sale of hardware and services in the world's most populated country to propel revenue and profit growth. But the efforts required to stay in China's good graces are causing tensions with civil libertarians and politicians at home.

He said Apple's operations began three decades ago with a handful of employees. Today, it helps support more than 5 million jobs in China, including 1.8 million local mobile app developers, he added.

Under Fire

Apple has come under fire for cooperating with Chinese authorities in removing apps that give users there uncensored communications. In November, Apple complied with government orders to pull Microsoft's Skype phone and video service from the Chinese version of its popular app store.

Cook used an earnings call with investors to justify such moves, saying it obeyed the laws of the markets where it operates.

"Much has been said of the potential downsides of AI, but I don't worry about machines thinking like humans. I worry about people thinking like machines," he said.

"We all have to work to infuse technology with humanity, with our values."

Technology of the future should have openness, creativity and safeguards to protect users while providing privacy and decency, he added.

It's a goal that, according to Cook's Chinese hosts, can only be accomplished through more laws and regulations that control what can be shared online. Politburo member Wang Huning called for a global emergency response team that would respond in times of crisis using new and undetermined measures.

New Order

"What we propose is we should promote a controllable security and build a new order," Wang said through a translator. "Cybersecurity is a serious challenge. Cyber crimes and cyber terrorism has grown more rampant. The world's destiny has become more intertwined in cyberspace."

Alphabet Inc.'s Sundar Pichai will also deliver a speech and join a panel on Sunday. Other leading technology executives taking part include Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Chairman Jack Ma, Cisco Systems Inc.'s Chuck Robbins, Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s Pony Ma and Baidu Inc. founder Robin Li.

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