Artificial intelligence has proven to be a disruptive technology with applications across every sector. Sensing the potential to dominate the market early, many enterprising tech companies have put their efforts toward improving the foundations of AI and discovering new use cases for it. AI is, of course, a broad term that can encompass any algorithmic technology, ranging from autonomous vehicles to medical record systems. It is therefore challenging to define the nebulous “AI race” in certain terms, with countries trying to get an edge on their national rivals without necessarily knowing what advantages this will provide. Nevertheless, the proliferation of tech companies offers some insight into which countries have best explored this new frontier for technology.
China has proven itself to be a contender in terms of both government support for AI and the generation of massive quantities of data to improve machine learning algorithms. The country has declared its intentions to become a global AI leader by 2030, with goals to hit an industry value of $150 billion. Of course, the question then becomes what AI technology is used for by the CCP. Critics of China have accused the country of leveraging new technologies for the purpose of monitoring and suppressing its citizens. One then wonders what the benefits of outpacing China in the AI race truly is—is the end goal something that other countries in the world should strive for?
Even so, the rhetoric in many other countries, including the United States, is that China is a threat in the AI innovation game. Pundits have made arguments for the dismantling of regulations with the logic that they stifle creative progress and thus risk falling behind in this new equivalent to the space race of the mid-twentieth century. The US, as well as any other country looking to develop AI, should be asking itself not how to “win” the race, but rather how to use AI to address societal issues and improve economic operations.
However, America is certainly capable of holding its own regardless, being home to some of the world’s most prominent tech companies, many of whom are strategically adopting AI for their own purposes. The ecosystem of AI startups in the United States has arguably marked it as a leader in this field. This is due to both a sizable pool of talent in the field, ample venture capital going toward AI development, and the technological knowhow to manufacture the components that power AI systems. The US’s biggest challenge is its convoluted immigration process, which limits the talent it can attract from outside its borders.
Other countries have also noted the application of AI and dedicated funds to supporting its development. Though the EU lags behind the United States and China in every AI metric, their strong AI research efforts and pool of talent give them the chance to be a contender. However, many of their AI experts tend to depart for the US, giving them something of a brain drain when it comes to innovation.
Canada, India, Norway, Russia, and Sweden have also taken an interest in AI, though none of these countries have access to the venture capital to rival the United States or China. Canada in particular has discussed the possibility of ramping up its AI efforts, and has actively begun recruiting more talent in the wake of the election of American president Donald Trump. Expect to see these countries explore the application of AI in specific areas rather than trying for the all-encompassing approach that other countries have taken.