Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a core element in many different spheres. According to stats from Gartner, thirty-seven percent of organizations have implemented AI in some form. That’s a 270% increase over the last four years. Further, Gartner forecasts claim that by 2021, 80% of emerging technologies will have AI foundations. Besides domestic usage of artificial intelligence, we can see its economic and military strength moving into the future. 

Why do we mention AI in political terms? See, the thing is, cnet keeps in touch with the US and China’s AI “arms race”, and we’ve parsed the most interesting details from their reports. The Chinese government is concentrating a huge amount of money and resources in this field so they can demonstrate their domination in AI. In that time, the US is moving to focus on private-sector development.  

Artificial intelligence is a leader in the money circulating process, which isn’t a surprise. Prominent tech companies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook in the US and SenseTime, Megvii, and YITU Technology in China make a great deal of income on their investments in this field.

“Narratives of an ‘arms race’ are overblown and poor analogies for what is actually going on in the AI space,” said Jeffrey Ding, the China lead for the Center for the Governance of AI at the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute. When you look at factors like research, talent, and company alliances, you’ll find that the US and Chinese AI ecosystems are still very entwined, Ding added.

Where are the roots of the US-China arms race?

A starting point was the events in March 2016. At that time, Google had enabled DeepMind, tech that’s is responsible for machine-learning and uses algorithms and reinforcement learning to train on massive datasets and predict outcomes – it won the competition against the human Go world champion Lee Sedol. People could watch the match throughout China, its influence on the rapidly growing interest from the country towards this technology was acute. But what was the reason? You see, Go includes war-like strategies and tactics, and through the Go challenge, it was shown that AI has established the potential for decision-making around warfare.

The second case was during the presidency of Barack Obama when the administration of the president revealed three reports related to the AI implementation in normal life and how much economic income it would deliver. Those reports have become a fuel for Chinese policymakers to catch up with the US AI strategy.

The Chinese government under President Xi Jinping has accepted the challenge and prepared a development plan for the nation in which China ambitiously occupies the position of the world leader in AI by 2030. 

“China has observed how the IT industry originates from the US and exerts soft influence across the world through various Silicon Valley innovations,” said Lian Jye Su, principal analyst at global tech market advisory firm ABI Research. “As an economy built solely on its manufacturing capabilities, China is eager to find a way to diversify its economy and provide more innovative ways to showcase its strengths to the world. AI is a good way to do it.”

China and the US’s relationship reminds me of the picture when two friends are competing with each other, but at the same time, they’re teaching themselves. China relies on US semiconductors and open source software to power AI, though the speed at which it implements AI trials is marvelous. 

The US has achieved a dominant position in the area of quality research. Chinese students who enter American schools like Stanford and MIT emit a sincere interest in AI programs, so that they can try their luck and start working for Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook – all of which have spent the last few years acquiring startups to bolster their AI work.

Coronavirus – AI influencer

The US’s AI plan constantly reminds China not to relax so far as to stop their plan from coming to fruition. In February 2019, US President Donald Trump unveiled an American AI Initiative executive order, where it was discussed that AI research will now become a core stream in the 2020 budget. It seems like Trump has given a blank order without access to new funding to make those measures come true. Moreover, not much else has happened at the federal level since then.

On the other end of the Earth, China created tight relationships with AI companies like SenseTime, Megvii, and YITU Technology, raising billions. However, China’s investing weakened in 2019 during the US-China trade war; the latter losing investor confidence. Later, in January, the Trump administration released restrictions for US companies to integrate certain types of AI software so that it can reduce Chinese access to American technology.

Later, like a clap of thunder during the sunny day, Chinese state media released the article about the first death from the mysterious virus outbreak — COVID-19. Within the battle against the virus, China has had the opportunity to test its AI and big data tools in regions to work to get rid of the virus, using such instruments as contact tracing, diagnostic tools, and drones to enforce social distancing. 

The pandemic period is a time when the US should be recognizing the risk of interdependence with China, said Elsa B. Kania, an adjunct fellow with the Center for a New American Security’s Technology and National Security Program. A lot of changes will be seen in sectors like pharmaceuticals and medical equipment manufacturing. Besides, AI will feel some influence too, as a technology that connects so many sectors and apps.

It’s high time to act

The virus has affected the global economy, but global AI investments seem like they didn’t feel any change. The forecast looks very ambitious: $22.6 billion in 2019 to $25 billion in 2020. But other countries than the US and China understand that it’s high time to act and separate from each other, in terms of AI and everything else. During the trade war, the Chinese government claims to diminish its foreign tech dependence in order to develop domestic startups and adopting more open-source solutions, Su said. For example, cloud AI giants like Alibaba are using open-source computing models to develop their own data chips.

But it isn’t set in stone that China and the US will break their AI relations soon. Open-source data is the main obstacle in an AI arms race, because so many basic platforms, algorithms, and even data use it. AI developers in China still rely on Google TensorFlow or Facebook PyTorch because of the lack of domestic options in the same networks.