Following Donald Trump’s call to invest in “cutting-edge industries” during his State of the Union speech last week, the President of the United States will today sign an executive order that will encourage government departments to invest in artificial intelligence technology.
Revealed early on Sunday by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the American AI Initiative will focus on redirecting funding, creating resources, establishing standards, retraining workers and encouraging international engagement.
“AI is something that touches every aspect of people’s lives,” a senior Trump administration official said. “What this initiative attempts to do is to bring all those together under one umbrella and show the promise of this technology for the American people.”
Despite research into the possibility AI having started in the United States, the nation is surprisingly late to release a strategy aimed at safe and effective development of the technology. According to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), the US is the 19th country or region to publish an AI strategy, following the likes of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Korea.
There is unlikely to be any specific mention of China when the American AI Initiative is released in full. According to reports, officials avoided answering questions about the East Asian nation during the press conference held yesterday. Yet, it seems likely that China’s heavy investment in the technology has pushed the Trump administration somewhat, given the rivalry between the two nations that has emerged as a result of Trump’s trade war.
“It is encouraging to see the White House take action on AI at a time when competition in these strategic technologies is clearly intensifying,” Elsa Kania of the Center for New American Security told Axios. “China’s ambitions to lead the world in AI present a direct and credible challenge to American leadership in innovation.”
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But can the American AI Initiative fight off pressure from China in the AI industry?
US vs China: Who leads the way for AI research and development?
Trump’s American AI Initiative comes almost two years after the State Council of China released its own “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan”, which outlined the nation’s approach to developing its AI industry.
The strategy set China the target of becoming the leading force in AI by 2030. However, a recent report by the US House Oversight and Reform IT Subcommittee concluded that China will likely reach its goal long before its deadline, with China’s spending on AI research and development (R&D) expected to have surpassed that of the United States in 2018.
A recent report, published by the China Institute for Science and Technology Policy (CISTP) at Tsinghua University, found that China has already surpassed the United States. According to the institute, China now accounts for 28% of all research papers on the subject of AI, having overtaken the US in 2013. Likewise, it is also the largest owner of accepted patents relating to artificial intelligence technology, including voice recognition, image recognition, robotics and machine learning.
According to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, China invested $31.7bn in AI technology in the first half of 2018, which is claims amounted to almost 75% of total AI investment globally in the same period.
The financial details of the American AI Initiative have yet to be announced. However, if the US is serious about keeping China at bay, it will take considerably more investment than the $2bn that the Department of Defense plans to spend over the next five years towards AI advancement.
Despite all of China’s success, the CISTP report concludes that China is still a long way behind the US for the number of AI-focused companies. China currently boasts just over 1,000 registered AI companies, compared to more than 2,000 in the US. Likewise, the US also boasts a considerably larger talent pool, accounting for 13.9% of talent qualified to work in the AI field, compared to 8.9% in China. With access to world-leading talent and forward-thinking companies, it isn’t too late for the American AI Initiative to halt China’s charge.