How the U.S. and China can compete and cooperate on artificial intelligence

Men visit iFlytek's artificial intelligence (AI) smart city display at the International Intelligent Transportation Industry Expo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. - RC1E35A070C0

A PwC report estimates that by 2030, 70 percent of the profits generated by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will be shared between the U.S. and China. While the two countries compete to develop the most advanced AI applications, there are also many opportunities for cooperation to mitigate the technology’s potential risks. On March 12, The Center for Technology Innovation hosted a panel discussion where Brookings scholars Darrell West, Nicol Turner-Lee, and Ryan Haas were joined by Robb Gordon, the chief counsel and director of Intel’s China legal team. The panel examined how the two nations have deployed artificial intelligence technologies so far and how they plan to use them in the future.

The race to AI

China hopes to become a global leader in AI in the next decade, and has committed to investing $150 billion to achieve this goal. China’s approach is to promote its large technology firms, which create tight integration of AI into everyday applications. One example is Tencent’s WeChat application, which is used across the country for everything from instant messaging to cashless payments. Another prevalent use of artificial intelligence has been for surveillance: China plans to add over 450 million surveillance cameras throughout the country by 2020. While these systems include facial recognition, they can be even more extensive, including systems that recognize the way people walk. Data collected by these systems then feeds back into the artificial intelligence that runs them for ever increasing accuracy.

The U.S. does have some comparative advantages such as the ability to attract top talent from around the world, allocate capital efficiently through startups, and a strong AI research ecosystem. The U.S. is also more concerned with the societal implications of AI than with the ubiquity of the technology. However, as AI rapidly moves ahead, U.S. policymakers must keep pace. This will require greater cooperation and federal funding among agencies that work with emerging technologies. In addition, the government must take steps to prioritize STEM education, consider how the current immigration system will affect efforts to attract AI talent, and foster innovation through cooperation between government agencies, university research labs, and the private sector.

Cooperating to Benefit All

Despite their diverging approaches, China and the U.S. can still work together to better capture the benefits of AI while simultaneously reducing its risks. Cooperation between the two nations can lead to sharing best practices for deploying new technologies and monitoring their use. Though each application of AI carries risks, the panelists were unanimous in their agreement that AI improves lives by creating greater efficiencies in sectors like retail, finance, and manufacturing. In the near future, emerging uses of AI in autonomous vehicles and telemedicine will improve transportation and health care. However, increasingly automated decisionmaking by AI systems can also amplify human biases in cases like screening job applicants and setting bail for defendants. As competition produces a growing number of AI applications, China and the U.S. have the opportunity to collaborate on the responsible deployment of AI.

Shezaz Hannan contributed to this blog post.