(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)
“AI is the world’s next big inflection point,” says Ajeet Singh, CEO of Thought Spot in Palo Alto. Artificial intelligence is machine learning, which self-learns programmed tasks, using data, and the more it gets, the more learned it becomes. It drives cars, recognizes individuals, diagnoses diseases and more. Like past informational technologies, artificial intelligence will convey advantages to the nation that leads its use — accelerating research, increasing productivity and enabling dominant military capabilities.
Hence, China’s race to dominate the technology.
In the United States, companies and agencies are pursuing artificial intelligence development in a decentralized manner. In China, the government has a focused national effort, following Google’s Deep Mind artificial intelligence defeating the world’s top Go players in 2016-17. That defeat was China’s “Sputnik moment,” (the moment that a technological achievement by a rival galvanized American political resolve to invest in space technology) — one the U.S. has yet to have with artificial intelligence. And, unlike the United States, China has a national strategy for artificial intelligence, setting milestones, accelerating China’s pursuit of the technology:
2020: Be equal to the United States
2025: Surpass the United States
2030: Lead the world as an artificial-intelligence innovation center
“Research institutes, universities, private companies and the government all working together … I haven’t seen anything like it,” said Steven White, an associate professor at Tsinghua University, China’s MIT. In the race for artificial intelligence dominance, “the U.S. will lose because they don’t have the resources,” said White.
But, needs are driving China, too. It’s artificial intelligence strategy addresses:
Its shrinking labor force — A “national crisis,” says the National Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which predicts China’s working population will drop from 631 million in 2020, to 523 million in 2035, and 424 million in 2050. China must also care for a growing elderly population. The United Nations estimates China’s over-65-age group will increase from about 160 million in 2020, to 360 million in 2050.
How to remain an economic power — China seeks to operate almost a million robots and produce 150,000 industrial ones in 2020.
Growing health care needs — China seeks a “rapid, accurate intelligent medical system,” including artificial intelligence-scanning imagery for cancer, robots providing medical references for doctors, and artificial intelligence-powered online consultations.
Military dominance of the East and South China seas, which allows access for China’s export-driven economy. China’s government seeks a civil-military fusion of artificial intelligence, enabling faster military decision-making, robotic submarines and large drone swarms that could overwhelm opposing forces.
Control by the Communist Party over China’s population. Internal unrest — coastal rich vs. interior poor; ethnically different regions like Tibet; an anxious middle class; and pro-democracy efforts — has long concerned authorities. China is using artificial intelligence to build an Orwellian state. Smart cities track peoples’ movements. China, netted with millions of cameras and facial and vehicle recognition systems, can rapidly identify individuals. Police wear facial recognition glasses that do the same. Bio-metric data provide even better identification. And people get social credit scores, which determine eligibility for loans, travel and more. This artificial-intelligence-enabled system enables political repression and strengthens autocratic rule.
Today, a divided America needs to “get [its] act together as a country” regarding artificial intelligence said former Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt. If it doesn’t, America’s greatness will pass, and so will hope for a free world order.
Thomas C. Linn is a U.S. Naval War College professor, a U.S. Army War College instructor, author of “Think and Write for Your Life — or Be Replaced by a Robot” and a retired U.S. Marine. The views expressed are his own.