As the COVID-19 unravelled itself, out of all the emerging technologies that have gained traction, artificial intelligence turned out to be one of the most transformative technologies to combat the crisis — not only to flatten the curve, but also to help businesses solve problems. In fact, according to a recent report, the AI market is expected to reach $208.49 billion by 2025 due to its increased application in the automotive and consumer electronics market.
As we are at the peak of this massive transformation driven by AI, it raises an essential question – is China dominating the AI race?
China’s Punctured AI Strategy
In fact, in 2017, the country had released a three-pronged strategy to become the world AI leader by the year 2030. To support that vision, the Chinese government has made significant advancements in its military and surveillance technologies. However, a lot of recent development has altered the notion of China being the AI superpower of the world. While, the US and India along with the EU have also joined in forces to make ethical development and use of artificial intelligence, China’s tyrannical use of AI is far less compelling with respect to ethical use as well as maintaining privacy and security. This can dilute their innovation and acceptance in both overseas businesses as well as among the masses.
Although China’s massive collection of data, ability to refine the technology and robust AI roadmap give it major leverage against other countries, its inability to conduct research and development for experimentation impedes it from becoming the next AI supremacy of the world.
In fact, according to research, despite $6.1 billion in funding, “China is not leading in AI innovation in the world.” Jerrold Wang, the author of the report states that, “On the surface, all innovation-related data indicate that China is poised to take over the world. Diving deeper, we find that all the hype around AI in China is warranted. However, it only highlights a few platform technologies and market segments.”
While China has been known to involve artificial intelligence in their day-to-day commercial purposes, the US has advanced with their research, development of tools, and the AI chips to power the systems.
The Story Of Data, Innovation & Chips
In recent developments, China, being a Communist-ruled country, has immense control over data and has been aggressively using artificial intelligence for contract tracing and monitoring its citizens amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Three notable companies, Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, have been continuously collecting data and have been tasked by the government to manage it globally. What is more, China has been gathering data not only from its surveillance technology, but has also started collecting DNA data from men across the country. However, this advantage has added little to no value value for the country since none of this data has actively helped in solving critical problems like drug discovery, which is vital during the crisis.
In fact, in a recent investigation done by New York Times, it has been revealed that the country’s health code system, which is used to regulate their citizen’s life, has been sharing users’ data with police authorities. To this, a Chinese researcher for Human Rights Watch, Maya Wang stated to the media that China has been using these landmark events like coronavirus to spread mass surveillance, oppressing the citizens. On the other hand, US giants, Google, Amazon, IBM as well as Microsoft have recently voiced their disagreement on selling their facial recognition technology (FRT) to police authorities due to its recent criticism.
According to news reports, many companies have also joined this AI race with more robust strategies, as well as well funded AI startups and robust technological innovation. One report has also termed that countries like France, Israel, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany as well as Japan have created a position in this space with their strategic strength by investing more money in AI research and funding emerging startups — which again has shaken off China’s dominance.
Another aspect that is highly considered to define the dominance in the AI world is the funding for artificial intelligence-based startups, which again, is getting highly concentrated among American companies due to their significant financing from Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists. In fact, in a recent report, it has been revealed that 285 AI startups in the US have raised $6.9 billion in the Q1 of 2020.
Additionally AI talent also makes a lot of difference. Despite China’s efforts to win the AI war, it has been challenging for them to retain AI talent in the country. Experts believe that the country’s authoritarian AI has impacted the AI talent. According to a study, three-quarters of Chinese AI researchers reside outside the country and work for US tech giants. A report stated that major universities of China have produced 12,521 graduates in recent years, but only a third of these graduates stayed in the country, and 62% of them left for the US. This brain drain indeed impacted the innovation sphere of the country. And for better AI innovation, a robust workforce of researchers, analysts and engineers are critical. However, the US has a vast pool of highly skilled AI talent that again gives them an advantage over China.
Additionally, success in AI experimentation and innovation would require a more adaptive environment than what China is currently providing, where it is only in military and surveillance requirements.
Alongside, China has always been dependent on the US for their AI chips, however the recent turmoil between the two countries, banning Huawei to buy AI chips from US companies, has disrupted the trading of these microchips. A research has stated that “Not only do Chinese producers lack vital knowhow in the manufacture of higher-end chips, rising barriers between the American and Chinese semiconductor industries mean that geopolitics could have an enduring impact on China’s future development of AI chips.” This, in turn, has provided the US with a leg up from China. Authorities in Beijing, however, are looking to create independent industry, which can work without American aid.
However in a published study by Dieter Ernst of CIGI, stated that how China’s is dependent on the US for these AI chips and how that makes the industry dependent on American companies.
“… institutional structures surrounding Chinese innovative efforts are likely to create large-scale misallocation, waste and resource leakage. The resultant disconnect between AI research and industry is real, immediate and unlikely to fade away any time soon,” said Ernst.
The dominance of the AI world will clearly be defined not by who is controlling the majority of the world data; rather it would hugely depend on how efficiently the data has been utilised for training the system as well as how it is implemented to create innovation for the world. Although clearly, the US has severe advantages to position itself as the world’s AI leader, with its advancement in research and industry collaboration, China has also been making aggressive strides towards elevating its position in the AI world.