Ever since interest in Artificial Intelligence technology experienced a newfound surge in the 1980’s its potential attracted the attention of multiple world superpowers. It also ignited their desires to pursue its implementation. Every single developed country wants to get their hands on powerful AI programs. If you look at which countries spend the most annually on AI research, China is first and the US follows not far behind but there are a few more big players trying to keep up.
Europe in particular has expressed recent fears of falling behind and has attempted to remedy this by funding more research teams. But will throwing more money at the problem really help them? In this post we break down the current standings in the AI arms race and we look into why Europe is afraid of falling behind and what they are currently trying to do about it.
We have covered some recent advances in AI that have come out of China that highlight not only some of the dark intentions behind their interest in the technology, but also just how ambitious their future plans are. They have created the world’s first AI news anchor and have begun to perfect gait recognition technology and show no signs of slowing down.
Artificial Intelligence has been more than a buzzword in China for the past decade or so. It has been a sign of great things to come (or so they think). The main areas that China is looking towards are robotics, driverless cars, marketing goods and services, gait recognition/facial recognition, and many more technologies that have not been disclosed by the Chinese government for good reason. China has also applied for 15,745 AI patents, the most of any country.
China has also been in the news recently as having passed the US in total spending on AI research. Experts have been both fascinated and curious as to how they have been able to pull this off when they started their research and development from a much lower base. The biggest reasons are the strong government support and the top down structure of their government which seems to make it easier to promote these pro AI tech development plans that China keeps creating. As for their motive, it is pretty clear that they intend to overtake the US as the leader in world GDP. Artificial Intelligence technologies seem to be their weapon of choice in that fight.
China has made it clear that they are not messing around and will work tirelessly to develop high end AI at all costs. However, when one moves as fast as China is moving it begs the question “Are they giving enough thought to ethics and safety”? At least for the time being it seems that they fully intend to sacrifice these things in exchange for speed and ultimately in exchange for gaining a decisive strategic advantage over everyone else to create some kind of monopoly or singleton.
China overtook the US years ago and shows now signs of letting up.
The US has been an economic and technological powerhouse for many decades now and has been heavily invested in AI since the 1950’s when the term “artificial intelligence” was coined. However, up until 2016 or so there has not been a clear cut long term plan created by the US government regarding the future of AI.
There are multiple reasons for this. First, the US has a number of other problems that are serving mainly as distractions which I’m sure comes at no surprise to our US readers, Second, the US has not had much competition in this area until China and Europe decided to step their game up a decade or so ago. The US has taken time to try to form a strategy and adjust to the sudden surge in interest across the globe. There are other reasons but those are the main sticking points that may hold the US back long term.
MULTIPLE ADMINISTRATIONS SET THEIR SIGHTS ON AI
In 2016 the Obama administration outlined a plan for AI research that focused on a couple of things. First, that AI needs to augment humanity instead of replacing it and AI has to be ethical and there must be an equal opportunity for everyone to develop these systems. Obama at that time said multiple times that the government must be involved a little bit more without over-regulating. This is in stark contrast to the strategy of the Chinese which seems to give little thought to things like ethics or avoiding a workforce crisis stemming from machines taking people’s jobs. Nevertheless, the US needs to step its game up.
Recently, the Trump administration has had to play catch up in this area, because they have been bogged down by all kinds of other issues, but that has not stopped the current US president from declaring that the US will become the global leader in AI implementation once again. Of course, this was done without any kind of detailed plan, which leads many to believe it is nothing more than political jargon intended to sound good. It is unclear whether the US will be able to proceed with as much efficiency as China has been able to for a few years now.
The US has some catching up to do.
When we refer to Europe we are primarily talking about the UK, because while there are many European countries engaging in AI research and development the UK is the biggest player by far in this part of the world. A group of European researchers have recently come together with a vow to advance AI research over fears of being left behind by the likes of the US and China. The European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems or ELLIS is what this team is calling themselves after they banded together on the 6th of December this year. Their fears are certainly not unwarranted but the bigger question is why has Europe been lagging behind all this time? This is a question to which no easy answers have presented themselves but many experts have decided to speculate as they always do.
The first reason has been cited as a “brain drain”, in which Silicon Valley giants have lured away much of the great talent in this industry. This is interesting because while this is probably true, China certainly doesn’t have a problem with losing any of their talented programmers or engineers to Silicon Valley tech companies and startups. Which brings us to another reason that hits closer to home for the Europeans.
Stifling regulations from the European Union surrounding the collection of data is widely seen as too strict and since current AI programs rely heavily on amassing large amounts of data, this will no doubt continue to slow down the efforts of European AI researchers. Also, if you are looking to start a company around an AI product you have created, Europe is not a great place for that at all due to a whole host of other kinds of regulations that slow down the creation and growth of businesses in general.
One can argue that China has far too few regulations targeting the field of AI which helps them in terms of speed, but may cause them to suffer some serious ethical problems in the future. At the same time one can also argue that while the efforts of Europe and the US seem to revolve much more around making safe and ethical AI taking the moral high ground will certainly have drawbacks. These factors are crucial for the final analysis.
Trying to find balance between speed and safety will drive a huge rift down the center of the competition. Drawing a line is never an easy task. A lot of people are wondering whether China has the right approach, which is a combination of low regulations, huge government support, ambitious long term plans, and deliberately overlooking safety and ethical concerns.
Others praise statements made by the US and the UK about making sure that not only are human rights preserved but also that AI creates more new jobs than it destroys, this is clearly the more superior long term strategy, despite the fact that it gambits away speed in the short term. As of yet there is no clear winner but what is clear is that China is in a dominant position and the US needs to get its act together and put together a viable long term strategy before it’s too late. The UK needs to wake up and realize that their regulations are slowing them down too much. All in all improvements can be made on all sides.
Around the year 2013 China eclipsed the US to become the world’s largest investor into the field of AI. In fact the US and China still sit in the top two spots and are poised to gain a decisive strategic advantage in which all other entities will be left behind with no hope of ever catching up including the UK despite their recent efforts. Leaping out that far ahead however would not take place until the intelligence explosion occurs. This would arise from the creation of artificial general intelligence which remains the holy grail of AI. This means there is still time for the countries who have not quite taken enough interest in this industry to catch up before it’s too late. What will happen when it is all said and done? Who will come out on top? Leave your comments down below.