In 2018, Kai-Fu Lee, a Beijing-based technologist, investor, and entrepreneur, predicted a geopolitical future shaped by American and Chinese dominance in artificial intelligence (AI): “[Y]ou might have some countries with no choice but to become a vassal state to the U.S. or China: You got my data, I will do what you want, and you help me feed the poor people.” The Economist characterized Lee’s vision this way: “The world will devolve into a neo-imperial order, in which, if they are to tap into vital applications, other countries will have to become vassal states of one of the AI superpowers.”
The current wave of global AI diffusion might prompt policymakers to revisit AI-impacting laws to ensure that they promote openness and collaboration.
Five years later, as large language models—LLMs—like Google’s PaLM 2 and OpenAI’s GPT-4 have begun to proliferate, AI competition has surfaced as a critical part of the broader tech rivalry between the United States and China. Though some analysts echo Lee’s binary view of AI rivalry, the global AI-competitive environment looks less dyadic than the picture he painted in 2018.
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