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In The New AI World Order, China Will Soon Surpass US In R&D Investment

For years, China vs US in AI has been a hotly contested topic with the matter taking on a geopolitical slant with national security coming in the centre of debate. However, a new report published in IEEE Spectrum, Kai-Fu Lee, noted venture capitalist reiterated how in the new world order governed by AI, the real crisis will emerge from automation that wipes out whole job sectors, reshaping economies and societies in both nations.  In a similar vein, AI exponent Andrew Ng discussed how in the coming years, there will be lots of cases where humans and machines will work side by side but the technology will also whitewash jobs and displace human labour.

Now Lee, whose new book — AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order dwells on the world’s two AI titans explores the AI capabilities of China and the US and the battle for global dominance. But most importantly, it frames a positive rhetoric for China, which is slowly and surely edging closer to AI supremacy, thanks to the “speed, capital, China’s entrepreneurism and access to large amount of data” In a Q&A, Lee told IEEE Spectrum how Chinese entrepreneurs are finding areas of success where there is massive data and a commercially viable application of AI, and then they work really hard to make the application work.

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China’s Data Advantage

The question is how does China and its tech giants, the famed BAT trinity has a clear advantage over the US. According to Taiwan born Lee, who is the former President of Google China, Microsoft and Apple and is now heading Sinovation Ventures shares China has a distinct data advantage. For example, he was cited by Spectrum extolling WeChat from Tencent, dubbed as an amazing innovation and the most innovative social network used by a large majority of Chinese users. Interestingly, it combines all the services such as Facebook, Twitter, iMessage, Uber, Expedia, Evite, Instagram, Skype, PayPal, GrubHub, LimeBike, WebMD, Fandango, YouTube, Amazon, and eBay in one.


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China is also a mobile first nation with users making key transactions over the phone. Besides, its technological, economic and geographic advantage makes it a high priority market for tech advances.

In terms of economic and political advantage, Lee shared how while the Asian tech giant is building cities and highways to facilitate the movement of autonomous trucks, US is struck down by lobbying. For example, the American trucking union is lobbyng hard to forbid testing on highways, which will give China a chance to steal a march over the US in autonomous trucks. This will slow down the development of autonomous tech and allow Chinese companies to test trucks, get the data and improve the technology.

Jobs & AI

Andrew Ng gave a perspective on the future of jobs and talent scarcity in the AI-ed economy in the Architect podcast. He said one of the key outcomes of the global AI talent shortage will be that companies shall prioritize projects and work in a disciplined manner. In a similar vein, Lee reiterated that AI will bear an inevitable effect on the labour economy with a section of jobs being wiped out, but then new jobs will be created in this area. However, a new survey findings from SAS indicate that job roles are being elevated as a result of AI and nearly 60 percent of respondents either “strongly” or “completely” agreed with the statement “we do not anticipate any impact on jobs due to AI’s implementation.”

Around 20 percent stated “resistance from employees due to concerns about job security” as a challenge to their AI efforts. So, while business and technology leaders anticipate little threat to jobs from AI, many believe that their employees are worried – a concern that can be addressed in part by more education about AI and its real impact on the workplace. For some observers, these results speak to the need for more education in and about AI – fast. “We really need to be focused on opportunities for job creation, because that’s a bigger part of the AI story,” Melvin Greer from Intel shared in the survey.

Interestingly, a new research paper — Rise of the Machines: Artificial Intelligence and its Growing Impact on U.S. Policy by Will Hurd and Robin Kelly emphasised as the AI technology advances, its progress has the potential to dramatically reshape the nation’s economic growth and welfare. It is critical the federal government build upon, and increase, its capacity to understand, develop, and manage the risks associated with this technology’s increased use. However, the paper threw light on US’s leadership in AI, highlighting that the country’s leadership in AI is no longer guaranteed. While the country has traditionally led the world in technological development and AI-driven technologies, China’s commitment to R&D has grown sharply, up 200 percent from 2000 to 2015 and if the current trend continues, China will soon surpass US in R&D investments.

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Richa Bhatia
Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.

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