Today, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that China has quickly established itself as a formidable force in the global Artificial Intelligence research and development field. Over the past 20 years, China has dramatically increased investment into AI. While on paper it would seem that China will outpace America in Artificial Intelligence research before the turn of the present decade, reality is not so obvious once we delve deeper into our analysis. Thus, the short answer to the question “Is China ahead of the US in AI?”- not yet. But the long answer is slightly more complicated.
Where 20 years ago, America’s dominance in the same was undeniable, today China has dramatically closed the gap and even outpaced the US in various sectors of Artificial Intelligence research. The number of research papers and patents published by researchers and scientists based in China has increased manifold, majorly thanks to the strong incentivization by the Chinese government.
When analyzing the Hardware and Software side of the equation, it is obvious that China has been able to develop capable silicon as well as one of the fastest supercomputers in the world, completely in-house. However, China doesn’t yet have the decade’s worth of breakthrough research in silicon technology which the American corporations already enjoy. The story remains the same when it comes to software. China has developed highly optimized software for their systems, but in terms of making major software breakthroughs, America remains one of the top performers in the chart.
Government incentivization has been extremely strong and bold in AI. The effects of the same are clearly visible. Over a course of 3 years, the number of Chinese Computer Science graduates have more than tripled as compared to the United States. The nature of research as well as the number of research papers published by Chinese researchers have dramatically increased over the course of a decade. China now conducts research over the full spectrum encompassed by “AI”, such as deep learning, big data, etc. At the same time, the number of Chinese patents filed overshot the number of US patents by 2.5 times in 2018 alone.
Cooperation between the state and private corporations is an inherent factor built into the nature of the Chinese political system. Following the defeat of the reigning world champion in Go, Lee Sedol, by DeepMind’s AlphaGo, the Chinese government designated five companies to become the champions who would lead China down the path of global AI dominance. Said companies include Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, iFlytek and SenseTime. As an example of the success China’s bold strides have brought in, WeChat by Tencent has already established itself as the undisputed champion in the Fintech space. With over 900 million Chinese users, the stupendous population in China and the granular consumer data provided by them to WeChat is certain to be of incalculable value.
There is no doubt that China is already giving America a run for its money when it comes to global dominance in Artificial intelligence R&D. With trillions of dollars being poured into AI, said trend is expected to continue into the future. America, being a democratic country vastly differs in its approach towards AI. Due to privacy concerns, American corporations already cannot lawfully dabble into certain fields of AI research. Such fields constitute most of the area where China has been able to outpace America and thus is not considered as a point for/against America or China.
A trend which seems to have remained unchanged is concerning breakthrough research, where America retains its spot as the global leader. Said trend is a result of America’s focus on quality over quantity, bolstered by the finest educational institutions around the world. Here, China still has to play a lot of catch-up to become America’s equal, which although monumentally difficult, might not be entirely impossible.