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article imageChina and the U.S. will eventually be parallel global AI leaders

By Karen Graham     Nov 5, 2018 in Technology
China and the United States are locked in a new arms race for dominance in artificial intelligence (AI), a contest that may lead to geographical spheres of dominance.
Li Kai-fu, a prominent investor, and entrepreneur based in Beijing has been talking up China’s artificial intelligence potential for a while. He continues to push the message that the real threat to American dominance in AI isn’t China’s rise, he says — it’s the U.S. government’s complacency.
In October, China's President Xi Jinping — stressing the fact that China must control the use of AI, called on party members of the National Congress to use the technology to propel the country's growth.
According to Li, co-founder, and chairman of Sinovation Ventures, China has lagged behind the U.S. in developing disruptive technologies. And Li is in a position to know quite a bit about the subject. Sinovation Ventures is an AI-focused incubator based in Beijing. He is also the author of AI Superpowers, a new book that explores the Chinese and American AI booms.
Li concedes that the U.S. still leads in research due to its universities that attract global scientific talent, giving the U.S. a clear advantage that's disproportionate to its population.
“[However] when it comes to implementing already-known technologies, and monetizing them, China would lead in the global race in AI, backed by its virtual cycle of having a large market, a large pool of data, which helps build better AI technology and fosters profitability for entrepreneurs as they, in turn, reinvest this money to build more products,” said Li, reports the South China Morning Post.
AI leaders in a parallel manner
In the MIT Technology Review in early October, Li pointed out "the real risk for the US is in failing to invest in and prioritize fundamental AI research—a problem that’s being exacerbated as big US companies suck up much of the top talent in the field."
Li understands the issues over artificial intelligence and the race for dominance in the field. He worked on machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University during the 1980s, led Microsoft’s research lab in China in the 1990s, and then spearheaded Google’s venture into China in the 2000s. So he sees what is happening, even if it is from a slightly biased viewpoint.
However, his vision - as outlined in his book - is that China and the U.S.will both be winners in AI and will eventually morph into two respective leaders in a parallel manner.
China will command AI in a global region that includes Southeast Asia, Africa, and potentially India and the Middle East. The United States will end up commanding most of the developed countries globally, including Canada, Australia, the eurozone and Japan.
Microchips are among China's biggest imports  rivalling oil  and have become a stark reminder o...
Microchips are among China's biggest imports, rivalling oil, and have become a stark reminder of its dependence on US technology
JUSTIN SULLIVAN, GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP
Opportunity to lead in AI technologies
“The US should set out some really big challenges that the current technology cannot solve,” Lee told MIT Technology Review. "A resurgence of interest in AI has been inspired, in large part, by stunning advances in deep learning, a technique that uses very large artificial neural networks to learn from data."
“A next set of technologies [is needed] to overcome the limits of deep learning. Commercial companies aren’t going to focus on these things," Li points out. While Beijing has taken a "hands-on" approach to AI at the government level, the U.S. government has maintained a hands-off approach, leaving R&D to commercial interests.
Spurred on by what Xi has prioritized, Chinese companies have embraced Xi's national blueprint. China aims to be the world's leading power in AI by 2030, with annual industry earnings of more than 1 trillion yuan (US$143 billion). In September, the Washington Post reported the US Defence Department's research arm is planning to invest up to US$2 billion over the next five years towards programs that will advance AI.
Li says the Trump administration should follow the lead of China as well as France and Canada by investing heavily in AI research. “Doubling funding is not at all outrageous,” he says.
More about China, United States, Artificial intelligence, Technologies, Arms race