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Topic Brief: The Global AI Race

Published
Jul 07, 2022 07:08PM UTC

Tags
Global AI Race  
Author
Zev Burton

INFER announced a strategic focus on artificial intelligence and launched the Global AI Race: Talent, Research, and Tech topic in early May 2022. This “topic brief” aims to give everyone (especially non-experts) a starting point for forecasting these questions about international competition in AI.

For context, INFER uses this general definition for AI: “a wide-ranging branch of computer science concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence.” We won’t go into the technical details of the field in this post. Our objective is to help you understand the global landscape of AI, specifically why governments are so concerned with it and the signals we’ve identified that help to assess who is leading among the world’s biggest competitors.

Read through these sections in order, or skip around to see what will help you the most!

  1. Why are policymakers focused on artificial intelligence?
  2. What is the United States doing to remain competitive in AI?
  3. What is China doing to remain competitive in AI?
  4. What is the European Union doing to remain competitive in AI?

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1. Why are policymakers focused on artificial intelligence?

AI is growing fast, and it has the power to transform not just our personal lives, but militaries, economies, and even governments themselves. Due to the enormous impact that AI will have on the future of the world, governments are stepping up efforts to become leaders in the AI realm, in what has been dubbed the “global AI arms race.” 

As we’ve written before, because AI drives advances in so many fields, maintaining technological leadership is key to both economic and geopolitical competition. On the international level, leading in the AI race can mean having a superior military, a stronger economy, and increased influence in a future world. A government that leads the charge in AI has influence over the direction and impacts of AI for the rest of the world, making the topic an important consideration for national security. 


2. What is the United States doing to remain competitive in AI?

The U.S. has traditionally been a leader in AI, largely because of significant investments in AI technology hardware. The U.S., as the home to some of the world’s most prosperous and advanced technology companies, like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, has built a legislative framework conducive to AI development and innovation. The AI start-up ecosystem in the U.S. is also prospering - the U.S. has the most AI start-ups and has received the most venture capital funding globally. 

However, despite U.S. leadership in technology and policy, the U.S. lags behind other countries in human talent. Strong AI can only be created by strong human intelligence. So far, this has not been a large issue (mainly because of the ability of the U.S. to attract international talent), but as the development and use of AI grow, so will the need for talent. If it is not addressed, the domestic talent shortage is a substantial vulnerability for the country.

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3. What is China doing to remain competitive in AI?

In 2017, China announced its “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan,” detailing its strategy to become the global leader in AI talent and technological development. With more access to data than their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe, AI models in China are stronger and faster. From a research perspective, China’s global share of AI research papers surpasses any other country. Researchers in China consistently file more AI patents than in any other country.

However, policies (like the 2017 policy mentioned above) are vague and often confusing. With names like “Made in China 2025” and “Action Outline for Promoting the Development of Big Data,” policies are high-level overviews of goals more than anything else. Companies are frequently left guessing what the government will regulate or fund. As a result, investors favor applied AI over long-term growth, which could affect the ability of China to control the long-term AI narrative.

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4. What is the European Union doing to remain competitive in AI?

The European Union made international headlines when it passed the EU Artificial Intelligence Act in 2017, which regulates AI from a risk-based perspective. As a result, the EU has a clear legal and regulatory framework. In terms of talent, AI research from Europe is well-respected and rivals China’s research output. This research prowess is due in large part to government funding. EU countries have allocated over 10 billion euros (or about 10.5 billion USD) to AI development and research within the past decade, rivaling U.S, spending.

Yet, this funding has not kept top talent in the EU. Top talent has moved across the Atlantic to pursue more lucrative and interesting opportunities. There have not been sufficient attempts to resolve this issue. The holy grail of EU AI policy, the EU AI Act, has received substantial criticism for its focus on risk aversion as opposed to encouraging development and innovation. 

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To help analyze which of the above will lead the global AI race, we have identified several factors that contribute to a country’s standing. You can read about how we did this here. The reasoning behind presenting these questions is further elaborated upon in various blog posts, concentrated here for easy reference. 

The INFER team has experts on hand to help understand this complicated topic. If you have any additional questions to help you forecast, please contact us at [email protected] and we will do our best to help find an answer. 

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