China is closing in on the U.S. advantage in several indicators of artificial intelligence (AI) development and has even surpassed it in some areas. Many analyses predict that AI will become an all-powerful technology that will change the overall economic landscape of the world. The U.S. National Security Council on Artificial Intelligence recommends that the United States must invest an additional $10 billion per year to avoid AI strength being overtaken by China.
Schmidt: To deal with China’s AI strength to catch up, the United States can follow the example of “civil-military integration”
In 2010, when U.S. search engine giant Google was unwilling to cooperate with Chinese authorities’ censorship request to exit the search market in mainland China, then-CEO Eric Schmidt (Eric Schmidt) may not have anticipated that China would pose a serious and comprehensive challenge to the United States in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies a decade later.
Schmidt told the U.S. magazine Foreign Policy in 2012, “I personally don’t think [censorship] like [China] can build a modern knowledge-based society …… Over Time, will that institutional approach come to an end? I think it definitely will.”
Time has changed, and Schmidt has recently issued frequent warnings to the U.S. government about China’s progress in artificial intelligence. He recently told a Congressional Senate hearing that the U.S. is “one to two years ahead of China in AI technology, not five or 10 years.”
Schmidt stepped down from all positions at Google parent company Alphabet last February; before that, he had been active in U.S. politics and the military, advising the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations on technology-related defense matters.
Schmidt currently chairs the U.S. National Security Council on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI). The independent commission was established under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 to “study the methods and means necessary to advance the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning and related technologies to comprehensively address the national security and defense needs of the United States” and to provide recommendations to the president and Congress.
Schmidt introduced the commission’s recently released Final Report earlier this month during a discussion on the latest episode of The Pacific Century podcast from the Hoover Institution, a think tank. He said, “The rise of China has brought us a new competitor, a capable competitor. It is made up of different values, manages everything differently, and acts effectively in accordance with its goals.”
The “Chinese model,” he said, is to invest heavily in science and technology research and development programs, and the United States needs to follow suit: “They’re using a model called civil-military integration, and we know they’re doing that. We need to do the same.”
Schmidt previously told a Senate hearing that China has not only closed the gap with the U.S., but its authoritarian approach to governing has allowed China to surge ahead of the West in AI technologies such as facial recognition by “several generations.”
He also said that China’s lack of privacy protections has allowed it to build massive databases, which has fueled the development of artificial intelligence in areas such as healthcare.
Schmidt said, “We need to address these issues without compromising core American values.”
The 2021 AI Index Report, released this month by Stanford University, shows China narrowly outpacing the U.S. by 20.7 percent to 19.8 percent in 2020 on this measure of AI-related professional journal citations.
In terms of the number of AI-related papers published, China has surpassed the U.S. since 2017, with 18% of the global total published in 2020.
However, the U.S. still maintains the lead in the number of AI academic conference papers and has a significant lead in the academic conference paper citation rate metric with 40.1% over China’s 11.8%, indicating that the quality of AI research results in the U.S. is superior.
Artificial intelligence will become a universal technology
The U.S. National Security Council on Artificial Intelligence reports that AI is the “fulcrum” of worldwide technological competition: “AI will be used to enhance all aspects of national power, from health care to Food production to environmental sustainability. Successful applications of AI in peripheral areas and technologies will drive economies, shape societies, and determine which countries exert influence and exercise power in the world.”
Klon Kitchen, a fellow in science, technology and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a Washington think tank, said the U.S. has realized that artificial intelligence is bound to become a “universal technology” that will have as profound an impact on the entire economy as electricity, cars and computers.
Speaking to the Voice of America, Kitchen said, “China seems to have a definite advantage in terms of practical applications, particularly around AI ventures, in part because of its huge population and the market demand for AI applications. China also has few barriers to how to access public data, which is a key enabler of AI.”
The U.S. understands this and takes this challenge very seriously,” he said. The U.S. also understands that AI is the latest of the so-called ‘general purpose technologies’ whose impact will touch virtually every industry, and that U.S. leadership in AI development and application is a prerequisite for our nation to thrive.”
Schmidt: U.S. needs to increase investment in AI by $40 billion per year
Schmidt told a House of Representatives hearing this month that the U.S. will need to spend an additional $40 billion a year over the next five to seven years specifically on AI research and development in military and non-military areas.
He led the report of the U.S. National Security Council on Artificial Intelligence, which recommended that the U.S. needs to devote 3.4 percent of the annual Defense Department budget to technology and allocate at least $8 billion to core AI research and development.
Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, mentioned at a Senate hearing in February that the biggest competitive challenge the U.S. faces in competing with China is not technology development, but the speed advantage China has in actually deploying and using new technologies such as AI.
He said there is a need to encourage faster and broader deployment and adoption of emerging technologies by the U.S. military in a manner consistent with democratic principles and American values, most notably with the goal of ensuring absolute U.S. military superiority, but also in the interest of accelerating the widespread use of technology at a broader level.
The NSCAI report sets a U.S. goal of being “AI-ready” by 2025, a goal that points specifically to the integration of AI systems in the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.
The report says the U.S. Department of Defense must take action to fully integrate AI into key functions, existing systems, exercises and combat drills to become an AI-capable force by 2025. This requires that warfighters have the basic digital technology literacy to employ those AI digital infrastructures and software that are integrated in training, exercises and operations. Intelligence professionals will also be required to have relevant “AI literacy.
Analysis: Code of ethics could give U.S. AI development an edge
At the same time, there are growing calls for technologically advanced democracies to unite and pool their capabilities to create the norms and ethical guidelines necessary to manage the application of technologies such as artificial intelligence.
An article co-authored by John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, and Darrell M. West, vice president, says, “A commitment to humanitarian aggregation among democracies is essential to negotiating from a position of moral force with China, Russia and other dictatorships whose views on the future of AI are far from ours,” said the article.
Kara Frederick, a researcher in the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), believes that AI products designed based on ethical guidelines will have more market appeal in the long run.
She told the Voice of America, “One of the important things for U.S. technology companies to ensure commercial success is to take a privacy perspective. I call it a privacy solution. …… If you produce a product that is attractive to the world market and has built-in privacy protections — many call it privacy by design — you can convince the world that it is a good idea. — you can convince the world that this design is a better way to go.”
Separately, Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) and a Marine Corps lieutenant general, said March 23 that improving ethical guidelines for the use of AI could also improve military commanders’ confidence in its use.
Groen also said the Pentagon is working on a “five-year plan” memo on AI budgets in response to China’s 2025 AI industry plan.