China and the U. S. Face-Off on the AI Battlefield

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China and the U. S. Face-Off on the AI Battlefield

Trends’ January 2017 cover story addressed one of the most important trends we’ve ever identified, “Harnessing AI-Driven Growth.”   It explained how the commercialization of pervasive, low-cost artificial intelligence would soon enable a quantum leap in productivity and transform the global economy by 2034.  The focus of that segment was on the advanced OECD economies, but the message was certainly not lost on China.  At the very moment when that segment was being published, the Chinese government was putting the finishing touches on its own road map titled, the “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan.”  That document announced its plans to “lead the world” in artificial intelligence by 2030. 

This should come as no surprise given China’s objective of displacing the United States as a global hegemon. And, just as a victory in the 20th-century cold war depended on technologies like microprocessors, Arctic oil drilling, and advanced materials, victory in the Sino-American Cold War is likely to require gaining or retaining clear leadership in AI, quantum computing, nanotech and biotech. Importantly, artificial intelligence like electricity, telecommunications, and railroads is an important “multiplier,” which makes other technologies more valuable.

In order to understand where China is headed, it’s important to consider the substance of its 2017 plan.

According to that plan, China intends to pursue cutting-edge advances in next-generation AI technologies in order to “occupy the commanding heights” of AI science and technology. The plan calls for progress in what it calls “AI 2.0” technologies, which include big data intelligence, cross-media intelligence, swarm intelligence, autonomous intelligent systems, and human brain collaboration with computers.  It particularly aspires to develop breakthroughs in autonomous learning, brain-inspired AI, and quantum-accelerated machine learning.   In doing so, it is clear that China plans to lead the world in “next-generation AI” and plans to devote extensive resources, including massive amounts of funding, data, and human capital, to this endeavor.

By pursuing this so-called “AI 2.0 agenda,” the Chinese government intends to leverage its rise in AI to enhance national competitiveness while bolstering its capacity to ensure state security and national defense. That means the Chinese Communist Party is seeking to direct the development of AI in accordance with the interests and imperatives of the “CCP...

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