China Is Overtaking the U.S. in Artificial Intelligence
Matthew Greenwood posted on April 02, 2019 |

China has said openly that it plans on becoming the world power in AI, ahead of the United States—and it’s taking significant steps to get there.

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence recently published a report showing that China has already surpassed the U.S. in published papers on AI. The report claims that China is likely to top the U.S. in the most-cited 50 percent of papers this year, the most-cited 10 percent of papers next year, and in the top 1 percent by 2025.

China said in 2017 that it planned to be the world leader in AI by 2030—and it had already been investing heavily in the technology. The growing superpower benefits from aspects of a command economy, where the Communist Party can decree a massive investment in AI and expect Chinese companies to follow the plan. Three of the country’s biggest companies—Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent—are active participants in the country’s well-capitalized and highly organized AI plan.

Those companies, collectively known as BAT, are also making big investments in U.S. startups. The BAT companies are appealing to U.S. firms because they can gain access to China’s massive market. However, that access comes at a price: the U.S. companies are expected to give China their business data. That data can be mined by BAT’s machine and deep learning technologies; BAT also has access to data from China’s 1.4 billion citizens, thanks to government control of the information. Combining those two data streams gives BAT—and by extension China—a huge competitive advantage in creating and developing AI technologies and products.

China's rise in AI development.

The U.S. response to the challenge is unclear. The country still leads in global AI investment, and President Trump’s American AI Initiative executive order commits “the full resources of the federal government” to help fuel AI innovation—although analysts believe that on its own the order won’t be enough.

“While we shouldn't expect—or want—the U.S. government to model China's example and dictate A.I.'s future, public and private sectors should coordinate on educating leaders about A.I. and writing policy that helps A.I. businesses thrive,” said Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute.

The president’s order will hopefully be a catalyst for increased American investment in AI—otherwise, the U.S. could find itself technologically outmatched by its political and economic rival.

Read more about American work on AI at Trump Prioritizes AI—But Doesn’t Commit to Funding It.


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