Zero-sum mind-set won’t inspire US AI development

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/7 21:33:40

Photo: IC

It is universally acknowledged that the US views China as a "strategic competitor." It is even more so in the era of new technologies.

During a conference held by the US congressionally-charted National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI) on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper took shots at China, warning that the US could not let China dominate the field of AI because "whichever nation harnesses AI first will have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for many, many years."

Another participant, Robert Work, a former deputy defense secretary and a leader of the commission, urged the US to work with "democratic nations" in the face of China's advantages in the field.

Obviously, the ideology-driven US is turning the competition in AI into a deliberate confrontation by wooing its "like-minded" allies.  

Competition could inspire or paralyze. A healthy level of competition brings incentives for advancement. But the US cannot make it if it aims at knocking out China's AI development. In the era of globalization, the development of high technologies is a process in which countries learn from each other and contribute their achievements to the global market. 

Being the world's leading players in AI, China and the US have distinct advantages. The US has the world's best AI research and development system. China has access to vast swaths of data which can be used in a more systematic way than the US. For instance, the availability of data acquired from digital payments, an area that China has leapfrogged the US, is key to harnessing machine learning and improving AI.  

At the same conference, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt warned of the need for AI cooperation with China and said decoupling from Chinese talent will hurt US innovation.

It is understandable that the US, the world's superpower, feels uneasy when China set the goal of becoming a major center and world leader in AI innovation by 2030. But in this globalized world, any attempts by the US to decouple from China will prove counterproductive, be it in trade or AI. 

China owns the most comprehensive manufacturing chain. Any high-end technology cannot live without the Chinese market as long as it is to be embedded in products. Although US President Donald Trump is urging tech companies like Apple to return manufacturing to the US, it's considered unrealistic. And the US doesn't have the workforce scale needed to produce the same amount of smartphones as China could. The US cannot expect the Chinese market to open up to it while suppressing Chinese technologies.

Rational voices have been calling for China-US cooperation in AI, an area where they have overlapping interests. Instead of viewing AI with a zero-sum mind-set, the US should embrace healthy competition with China for the good of the world.

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