National R&D strategies suggest the possibility, though not yet the probability, that global AI leadership could move East in the 2020s.
Will China Lead in AI?
Will China Lead in AI?
Notes from the Editor
As we have pointed out before, the TechCast experts doubt that artificial intelligence will soon have dire consequences. AI will change many of our jobs. It probably will add a few percent to unemployment rates. Yet, it will not cause the wholesale dislocations some fear–certainly not by 2025 and probably not for many years thereafter. Over all, the benefits of AI will far outweigh any harm it brings.
A recent report by analyst Joshua New over at the Center for Data Innovation makes it clear that most major governments agree. Instead of trying to slow the advance of AI and cushion its impact, national policies aim to accelerate the new technology’s development and make sure their countries reap all the benefits they can. How they plan to do it brings up a possibility that may, and probably should, concern Western leaders for many years to come. Here is a quick overview of the national plans:
In AI, as in many other fields, Beijing intends to be America’s chief competitor. The State Council’s development plan, released this July, aims to make China’s AI research the equal of any country’s by 2020 and the world’s “premier artificial intelligence innovation center” ten years later. By then, it foresees a domestic AI industry worth ¥1 trillion per year, or nearly $150 billion. China is backing these goals with a multibillion dollar investment program to promote academic research, AI startups, and “moonshot projects.”
The country’s Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy Council, founded last year, published its National Artificial Intelligence Technology Strategy this May. Although the program speaks of advancing AI research, many of its themes are clearly practical: productivity, mobility, health, and medical care. Japan’s workforce is already begun to shrink, and the country will soon begin to run short of truck drivers, so one specific goal is to develop autonomous vehicles as quickly as possible.
Washington developed its basic AI strategy in a series of studies and public workshops sponsored by the White House in 2016. Of the seven specific goals that emerged from this effort, nearly all aim to promote research and make sure the country has enough specialists to keep the lead in AI. One fit particularly well with TechCast’s conclusions: to develop human–AI collaboration so that artificial intelligence makes workers more effective, rather than replacing them.
Two more countries, Great Britain and Canada, also are working on national AI strategies. Both emphasize the education of AI researchers and the training of a skilled workforce capable of using their products effectively. Both efforts are still largely in development.
Something stands out about these programs, a pattern we see in many fields of science, technology, and business. China and Japan are building nationally coordinated programs for AI research and development. The United States, Britain, and Canada clearly plan to rely on private initiatives and market forces to direct their efforts where they will do most good.
Both strategies have served their countries well in the past. Yet, for several decades now Beijing has been spectacularly successful with its unique combination of capitalist incentives and central planning. A comparable triumph in AI could make China a global high-tech leader for many years to come.
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