In-Depth

by Malcolm Riddell

NSCAI: Final Report
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Artificial Intelligence: How to Beat China

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence

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March 11, 2021
Artificial Intelligence: How to Beat China
Artificial Intelligence: How to Beat China
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Chart from the 'Final Report' by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence

NSCAI: Final Report

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The Problem: The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, created by Congress and chaired by former Google CEO, Eric Smidt, recently released its 756-page ‘Final Report.’

  • ‘AI is expanding the window of vulnerability the United States has already entered.
  • ‘For the first time since World War II, America’s technological predominance—the backbone of its economic and military power—is under threat.’
  • ‘China possesses the might, talent, and ambition to surpass the United States as the world’s leader in AI in the next decade if current trends do not change.’

The Threat: ‘China is organized, resourced, and determined to win the technology competition. AI is central to China’s global expansion, economic and military power, and domestic stability.’

  • ‘It has a head start on executing a national AI plan as part of larger plans to lead the world in several critical and emerging technology fields.’

‘Beginning in 2017, China established AI goals, objectives, and strategies tied to specific timelines with resources backed by committed leadership to lead the world in AI by 2030.’

  • ‘China is executing a centrally directed systematic plan to extract AI knowledge from abroad through espionage, talent recruitment, technology transfer, and investments.’
  • ‘It has ambitious plans to build and train a new generation of AI engineers in new AI hubs.’
  • ‘It supports “national champion” firms (including Huawei, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, iFlytek, and SenseTime) to lead development of AI technologies at home, advance state-directed priorities that feed military and security programs under the rubric of military-civil fusion, and capture markets abroad.’
  • ‘It funds massive digital infrastructure projects across several continents.’
  • ‘China developed an intellectual property (IP) strategy and is trying to set global technical standards for AI development.’
  • ‘And its laws make it all but impossible for a company in China to shield its data from the authorities.’

The Conclusion: ‘If the United States does not act, it will likely lose its leadership position in AI to China in the next decade and become more vulnerable to a spectrum of AI-enabled threats from a host of state and non-state actors.’

The Solution: ‘The government will have to orchestrate policies to promote innovation; protect industries and sectors critical to national security; recruit and train talent; incentivize domestic research, development, and production across a range of technologies deemed essential for national security and economic prosperity; and marshal coalitions of allies and partners to support democratic norms.'

  • ‘The Commission is not calling for a state-directed economy, a five-year plan, or China-style “military-civil fusion.” '
  • ‘But this is not a time for abstract criticism of industrial policy or fears of deficit spending to stand in the way of progress.' [Neither of these seems to be impediments these days on the Left or the Right.]

My Take. I don’t have the expertise to judge the Report on the merits.

  • But from following AI from the Chinese point of view, I have no doubt that China is determined to lead in AI and reap the advantages from that.
  • I also realize that China has an AI ‘industrial policy,’ as it does for tech more generally.

But evaluations of the implementation of that policy show something more akin to herding cats - scattered, sometimes wasteful, sometimes uncoordinated – rather than the superbly coordinated behemoth moving smoothly toward AI domination the Report suggests.

  • Even so, cats do get herded, and that is the threat to the U.S. and its allies.
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