Does China gain an advantage in artificial intelligence?17. November 2019
Does China gain an advantage in artificial intelligence?
New York, 17.11.2011
“China relies on AI and invests in AI and uses AI on a scale no other country can match,” says Abishur Prakash, a futurist and author of books on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on geopolitics.
While the development of the AI is accelerating, some in the US fear that the ability of the powerful Chinese central government to collect data and pump resources into the field could give China an advantage in the battle for technological leadership.
The country has announced billions for start-ups, launched programs to promote overseas researchers and streamlined its data policy. It has announced news reading robots and an AI-based external relations strategy.
In recent years, Washington has tightened oversight of Chinese investments, banned US companies from doing business with certain Chinese companies, and increased prosecution of alleged technology theft. “What the Trump administration is doing is a sign that they now know: their geopolitical power is being redefined and reconfigured,” said Prakash, who works at the Toronto-based Center for Innovating the Future. Some analysts fear that the US response (in the form of a trade war) is counterproductive and argue that abolishing access to US microchips, for example, would accelerate China’s efforts to develop its own alternatives.
The Trump administration has imposed billions of dollars worth of customs duties on Chinese goods in retaliation for “unfair” practices. The aim is to prevent China from gaining an advantage in the high-tech war. The White House has called on universities to review their relations with Chinese partners and threatened to restrict student visas. All measures will be carried out under the motto “America first” and aim to maintain US technological leadership. It could be inevitable that China will grow into an equal position in terms of economic policy. However, it would be something completely different if the Chinese were to succeed in this in the technology sector and the USA were to open up its market for them, according to a much quoted study by the US Department of Defense in 2018.
Where is China making progress?
While the US and China are struggling to benefit from advances in machine learning, face recognition and other forms of artificial intelligence, Tom Mitchell has a front row place. The professor of computer science founded the world’s first artificial intelligence research center in Carnegie Mellon, USA. Since 2018, he has also been chief scientist at Squirrel, a leading tutoring company in China.
He says that the US has more experience in building technology companies, but China could have an advantage in using BIG Data when it comes to AI applications based on large data sets. Mitchell refers to the medical sector.
First, he complains, “In the US, we have had electronic medical records for over 20 years, but we still haven’t gathered all the records in the country to apply machine learning algorithms to them.” Second, “the US is hampered by privacy concerns.”
“In China this is a different situation. If the government decides they want nationwide electronic medical records, it will happen.”
The sequence of nationalistic tones
Prof. Mitchell, who is working on the use of AI to improve education, says the work in both the US and China puts him in the best position to invent and apply cutting-edge technology. But this type of cross-border cooperation is increasingly being put to the test in the face of rising political tensions.
The impact of this is illustrated by the following figures: Last year, Chinese investment in the US fell to 4.8 billion dollars (3.7 billion pounds). At the same time, US investment in China fell from $14 billion to $13 billion, according to the Rhodium Group’s annual report.
High-profile Chinese companies such as insurance giant Anbang and Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures have reportedly sold or cut back US activities, while the Chinese Huawei and ZTE suffered heavy losses after the US government banned them from entering the market.
This is just the beginning. Will it work? Are these the appropriate means to stop China?
In the meantime, a new threat has emerged. The consequence of Washington’s increasingly nationalistic tone is that foreign students and researchers in the US see dangers for themselves in the near future. Because many of them are Chinese who have played a decisive role in US technology development so far, this could soon lead to them returning to their homeland. This would create a deep hole in some areas of research and development and lead to stagnation. The US government could hardly make a better gift to the Chinese.