Originally published in The Verge, Feb 22, 2018
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The competition between China and the US in AI development is tricky to quantify. While we do have some hard numbers, even they are open to interpretation. The latest comes from technology analysts CB Insights, which reports that China has overtaken the US in the funding of AI startups. The country accounted for 48 percent of the world’s total AI startup funding in 2017, compared to 38 percent for the US.
It’s not a straightforward victory for China, however. In terms of the volume of individual deals, the country only accounts for 9 percent of the total, while the US leads in both the total number of AI startups and total funding overall. The bottom line is that China is ahead when it comes to the dollar value of AI startup funding, which CB Insights says shows the country is “aggressively executing a thoroughly-designed vision for AI.”
China’s natural advantages in AI are well-documented. Compared to the US, it has a huge population (1.4 billion), which offers a wealth of data and opportunity for companies to scale quickly. Its AI sector also has the backing of a central government that’s able to quickly shift resources (as opposed to the missing-in-action White House), and the country’s looser approach to digital regulations means companies can experiment more freely.
But these qualities can have downsides, too. The looser regulatory atmosphere, for example, is reflected by the fact that a major recipient of AI funding in China is facial recognition. This technology is widespread in the country’s cities, used for everything from identifying jaywalkers to allocating toilet paper. More significantly, it’s also been embraced by the government as a tool for surveillance and tracking. This is a technological advantage that US citizens probably wouldn’t want to replicate.
About the Author:
James Vincent is a reporter for The Verge, who covers machines with brains, despite being a human without one.