December 04, 2017

China’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy Poses a Credible Threat to U.S. Tech Leadership

By Gregory C. Allen

Last month, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, delivered a wake-up call: the unchallenged technological supremacy that the United States has enjoyed since the fall of the Soviet Union is over. The future will belong to countries that can surf the technological tidal wave of artificial intelligence, and while China’s efforts appear up to the challenge, the United States is swimming in the wrong direction.

When China released its national AI strategic plan this summer announcing it would lead the world in AI technology by 2025, some in the military and Silicon Valley scoffed. They repeated the same tired cliché that China’s tech industry and scientific researchers can’t innovate, only copy. Schmidt, by contrast, sees China’s AI ambitions as completely believable “You’re crazy to treat them as somehow second class citizens” he said, addressing an audience full of American national security officials and AI researchers.

Rather than being significantly behind, Chinese programmers now routinely win international machine learning competitions. China’s tech giant Baidu is unambiguously one of the global leaders in AI research, having developed an AI system with better-than-human speech recognition performance a year before any Western firm. China is not yet the overall leader in AI technology, but they are not far behind and catching up quickly.

Read the full commentary in the Council on Foreign Relations blog.

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