China and the U.S. Race to Become World Leader in A.I.

A U.S. dollar and a Chinese yuan laying side-by-side next to each other on a chess set.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Last month, China laid out a plan to become a world leader in A.I. by 2030. If successful, China would have control over a domestic industry estimated to be worth nearly $150 billion.

“It’s a very realistic ambition,” said Anthony Mullen, a director of research at information technology firm Gartner. “Right now, A.I. is a two-horse race between China and the U.S.”

According to The New York Times, China’s technological ambitions have put the U.S. Department of Defense on high alert. In recent years, American A.I. companies have seen an influx in capital from foreign Chinese investors. Defense officials worry that Chinese investors will use this cutting-edge technology to develop advanced military weapons. It’s become such a concern, in fact, that the U.S. has considered legislation that would restrict Chinese investment in American A.I.

“The Chinese have found a way around our protections, our safeguards, on technology transfer in foreign investment. And they’re using it to pull ahead of us, both economically and militarily,” said James Lewis, a senior vice president at the Center for Security and International Studies.

As time goes on, it’s looking more and more like China will win the race to become the world’s first A.I. superpower, given that the U.S. has cut back on science funding. The Trump administration has even suggested budget cuts to a number of agencies with links to advancing A.I. This worries Paul Scharre, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security.

“Clearly [Washington doesn’t] have any strategic plan to revitalize American investment in science and technology,” Scharre told The Verge. “I am deeply troubled by the range of cuts that the Trump administration is planning. I think they’re alarming and counterproductive.”

If the U.S. looses this technological race, it would put China that much closer to becoming the world’s largest economy.

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