2018 was the best year yet for artificial intelligence. The technology is enjoying unprecedented use and efficacy, spanning industries and devices, and even being introduced into people’s homes in ways that once seemed in the realm of fantasy. With AI and machine learning poised for even more growth in the coming years – a PricewaterhouseCoopers report predicts AI will contribute $15.7 trillion to the world economy by 2030 – it is of vital economic importance for government in advanced economies to embrace the industrialization of AI in order to remain competitive. Two countries lead the pack: The United States and China.
The US is a major player in AI – Forbes characterizes the country as “highly invested in AI and other emerging technologies,” especially on a research level. Between military commitments, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) $2 billion investment in the AI Next program, and funding from organizations like the National Science Foundation (which contributes $100 million per year for AI research), the US remains poised to successfully innovate.
But academic research is only part of the equation. The actual industrialization of AI – the manufacturing side, and the implementation of the technology in various fields – could very well be dominated by China. After all, the country is already a leader “in factory machinery, electronics, infrastructure, and renewable energy,” lending it a distinct advantage in those departments.
China recognizes that AI leadership will have major repercussions on its economic future, and the government is committed to assisting however they can. The country maintains the benefit of “a productive synergy between government policies and market forces,” according to Kai-Fu Lee, a current venture capitalist and former AI research leader at Apple, Microsoft, Google China, and more. “The biggest role the government plays in China is through what I call a techno-utilitarian policy, which means letting technology companies have a try with as-yet-unproven technologies,” Lee told Bloomberg. “Let them try it in some limited way and then see what happens, and if it works, let them push the limits and go into even gray areas.”
That recognition has enabled China to maximize their AI-centric innovations through their increasingly potent tech industry. Forbes points out that “the Chinese government plans to lead the world in AI by 2030, announcing more than $110bn worth of technology merger and acquisition deals since 2015,” – a lead they “[expect] to widen…by leveraging massively abundant data and rapid prototyping. The country’s growing internet economy generates vastly more data than any other country, leveraging speed, execution, and product quality, particularly through its fintech companies.”
The US – the land of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and other business giants – remains a dominant technological force. But it lacks a similar clear-cut leadership strategy and vision for its AI efforts. It’s a problem they will need to rectify in order to maintain their position as one of the world’s foremost countries in a tech-focused world.
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