To many Americans, artificial intelligence still seems like a concept stuck in a science fiction universe. So many movies, books and television series featuring AI have obscured what artificial intelligence truly is in the real world: not a bipedal, super-intelligent robot bent on human destruction but a convenient type of application for ensuring higher productivity.
Unfortunately, perhaps because of the misunderstanding regarding the nature of the tech, the United States is quickly falling behind other countries in terms of AI investment. Because U.S. businesses are not adopting AI, funding for AI research is much lower than it is in developing nations devoted to technology, like China.
AI in China
Throughout the most recent Beijing Olympics, China showcased its technological advancements, especially those driven by AI and robotics: driverless buses, chef-lee’s restaurants, smart beds, 5G train cars and more. While much of the world watched world-class athletes perform amazing feats and skill, speed and strength, American technologists began to quake in fear.
In the few years China has committed to the development and adoption of next-generation technology, it has eclipsed the technological prowess of the United States. By focusing on AI, in particular, China is rapidly gaining power on the world’s stage, to the extent that many technology researchers and policymakers have deemed the competition to be over already. In fact, the Pentagon’s first chief software officer Nicolas Chaillan resigned in the fall of 2021 in protest of the frustratingly slow pace the U.S. is taking in technological transformation.
The issue of China surpassing the U.S. in AI technology goes far beyond bragging rights. U.S. military personnel fear that AI-driven systems and weapons could begin to replace more traditional military tools in the coming years. Already, the United States and China are engaged in an arms race to build the biggest and best military; if Chinese AI is radically more advanced than the AI available to American troops, the U.S. could be at a significant disadvantage in any future disputes. What’s more, China is already leveraging its superior AI to win economic power. Even American AI firms are finding the majority of their revenue in China because American companies have historically invested so little in tech.
Some tech experts in the West suggest that the reason for the rapid advancement of AI in China is the country’s lack of ethical standards and privacy concerns. In Europe and North America, tech companies and consumers are much more dedicated to preserving values and protecting rights; in contrast, Communist China is a totalitarian state with full dictatorial authority over how its citizens behave. Already, the Chinese government determined that the Chinese people have no right to privacy, and thus, advancements in AI can proceed unencumbered by moral questions.
What We Can Do to Improve American AI
Though the outlook might seem bleak, there is still plenty that the U.S. can do to catch up with and even surpass Chinese AI development — and in a way that maintains American values. First and foremost, American AI needs better funding. Both the U.S. government and American corporations need to provide financial support to AI development initiatives. Fortunately, AI investment in America is already increasing: In 2021, the U.S. spent $52.9 billion on AI funding, while China spent only about $17.2 billion. Indeed, because America is wealthier than China, the U.S. can afford to pour more money into the tech and see even swiffer development and results.
Companies, too, should work to integrate AI-driven tools and systems into their organizational strategies to help familiarize American workers with the tech. Business executives might opt to enroll in artificial intelligence online courses to become more comfortable strategizing with this advanced technology. The more organizations come to rely on AI, the more funding AI firms will receive from American companies, and the more opportunities American employees will have to become accustomed to AI. With greater use, AI becomes less threatening, and many of the ethical questions maintained by members of the West will become lesser concerns.
To many, AI seems like a quirky new technology, but in truth, AI could be the foundation of the future. If the United States wants to maintain its technological prowess, it needs to prioritize AI development — or be content with China as the next primary superpower on the world’s stage.