Investments are needed to stop the US from falling behind China in AI

The battle for artificial intelligence (AI) supremacy between the U.S. and China has become the frontline in the global tech race. As China relentlessly pursues leadership in AI, it’s imperative that the U.S. maintain its edge, to safeguard our economic vitality and national security.

AI represents an unprecedented technological capacity. From military to health care to manufacturing to all elements of the digital ecosystem, AI will transform our nation and the world.  

AI enables machines to learn and make critical decisions in a fraction of the time it takes humans. It can sort, identify, and categorize data with stunning efficiency and with near-perfect accuracy.  When taken to the next level, the technology becomes predictive in ways previously unimaginable. We are seeing such developments emerge across technologies, including search engines, autonomous vehicles, and other military and national security-related platforms.  

Such remarkable advances in AI technology will prove consequential in geopolitics.  Whoever leads in this space will have economic and military leverage over rivals.

Although the U.S. has been the global leader in AI for decades, China is quickly catching up. China recognizes this opportunity and has prioritized becoming the global leader in AI tech development through large public investments and incentives for its tech sector.  

By some measures, China is already outpacing U.S. tech companies in research and development. Beijing has set 2030 as its goal for AI dominance.  China’s communist rulers are expected to more than double their annual investment in AI to $27 billion by 2026. By some estimates, this project will add $600 billion to the Chinese economy.  Many have assessed that China has already reached parity with the U.S. in the development of AI but is implementing the technology in products and services at a pace likely to overtake the America later this year.   

As part of its 2030 AI plan, Beijing has focused on transforming its physical economy into a digital economy. Notable targeted sectors include industrial manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, and infrastructure. Last month, Chinese tech company Baidu unveiled its own AI chatbot called “Ernie” in response to ChatGPT and GPT4. Although American AI chatbots appear to have the technological edge for now, new Chinese versions such as Ernie are likely to attain a market advantage, given China’s population and Beijing’s investments in AI.

While China has made impressive and considerable strides in implementing AI technology, U.S. research and development remained key to big advances. That may be changing. Chinese companies are adjusting their focus to developing AI technology of their own. While the Biden administration’s export controls on American AI and semiconductor tech will help slow the growth of Chinese tech advances, the U.S. must couple these defensive measures with proactive support for its own tech industry. 

Innovation is what America does best. America’s tech sector thrives when research and development is adequately funded, and when tech innovation at U.S. universities and companies is incentivized at high levels. The CHIPS and Science Act set aside funds for investments in tech research and development, including AI. The act is a first step should serve as a blueprint for additional legislation in support of maintaining America’s lead in AI. 

Lawmakers and policymakers in Washington must resist siren calls to enact sweeping, misguided legislation that would harm U.S. tech innovation. Overregulation of our private sector tech companies would risk holding back U.S. tech in its competition with China. Such a situation jeopardizes both our economic and national security. Allowing America’s largest private sector technology companies to achieve scale and thereby innovate and compete with massive Chinese tech firms is not an abdication of regulatory authority, it is smart policy.  

Supporting a robust and innovative American private sector tech industry through incentives, investment and a light regulatory hand will allow the U.S. to compete, stay secure and thereby prevent the Chinese Communist Party from achieving its AI domination dreams.

Robert C. O’Brien is Chairman of American Global Strategies LLC. He served as the 27th U.S. National Security Advisor. 

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