AI Arms Race: US-China duopoly signals new geopolitical risk

AI Arms Race

By Jayajit Dash

AI Arms Race: As the world hurtles towards the digital age, the race to dominate the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become one of the most fiercely contested geopolitical battles in recent times. Gray Scott, a futurist, predicted: “There is no reason and no way that a human mind can keep up with an AI machine by 2035.”  The United States and China, the two superpowers of the world, have long been competing to establish themselves as the undisputed leaders in the AI arms race, with both countries pouring billions of dollars into research and development. The US-China decoupling has given way to AI duopoly. Leaders and policymakers on either side of the Pacific are obsessed with amplifying capabilities in AI without realizing its repercussions.  It is a new era of tech supremacy where the two global titans are locked in an understated, yet risk-laden contest.

The AI arms race is not just a contest to achieve technological superiority; it is a battle to reshape the global geopolitical landscape. The country that emerges as the leader in AI will not only reap the rewards of economic dominance, but will also have a significant strategic advantage over other countries. AI has the potential to revolutionize the way wars are fought, the way governments operate, and the way economies function. As such, the stakes are incredibly high, and the implications of the race are far-reaching.This is analogous to the race for space exploration in the 20th century, where the first country to achieve success achieved a new level of prestige, status, and power that others could not match.

The US and China are the two leading powers in AI, both in terms of research and innovation, as well as market size and adoption. Both countries have also recognized AI as a strategic priority for their national interests and security, and have invested heavily in developing and acquiring AI capabilities. However, while there are some areas of cooperation and dialogue between the two countries on AI, such as on technical standards and scientific exchanges, there are also many sources of conflict and mistrust, such as on trade, human rights, and military applications.

Some analysts have argued that the US-China AI competition is not only about technological superiority, but also about ideological and political values. The US advocates for a liberal and democratic approach to AI governance, based on principles such as transparency, accountability, and privacy. China, on the other hand, pursues a more authoritarian and centralized model of AI governance, based on principles such as efficiency, control, and surveillance. These contrasting visions of AI could have implications for the international trading system, the global normative framework, and the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

At the forefront of the AI arms race is China, which has made no secret of its ambition to become the world leader in AI by 2030. The Chinese government has set aside billions of dollars for AI research and development and has implemented policies to encourage the growth of AI startups. Today, China boasts the most number of AI-centric research papers. Globally, China has the share of 26 per cent in AI-based research submissions, the highest, piping the US which ranks next at 17 per cent. China’s vast population, coupled with its authoritarian government, gives it a significant advantage in the race to develop AI applications. China has access to massive amounts of data, which is a crucial component in training AI algorithms. Additionally, China’s government can use AI to monitor its citizens, suppress dissent, and maintain social control.

The United States, on the other hand, has a different approach to the AI arms race. Rather than relying solely on government funding, the US has a robust private sector that is leading the charge in AI research and development. US companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft and OpenAIare at the forefront of AI innovation, and the US government has policies in place to encourage the growth of AI startups. When it comes to innovation, diffusion and adoption of AI, US wins the battle hands down. However, the US is also facing significant challenges in the race to dominate AI. One major obstacle is the lack of a unified national strategy on AI, which has resulted in fragmented efforts.

The AI arms race between the US and China is already having significant implications on the global geopolitical landscape. The race is creating a new form of power struggle, where technological prowess is replacing traditional measures of power. Countries that fall behind in the AI arms race risk losing their economic and strategic positions in the world. Moreover, the race is raising concerns about data privacy and security, as governments and companies amass massive amounts of data to train AI algorithms.

The AI arms race between the US and China is a complex and dynamic battle that will have far-reaching implications on the global geopolitical landscape. The outcome of the race will determine the winners and losers in the digital age and will have significant implications for global security, economic prosperity, and data privacy. As the race intensifies, it is crucial that policymakers and industry leaders work together to ensure that AI is developed and deployed in an ethical and responsible manner, that upholds human rights and safeguards the common good.

While framing advances in AI as an “arms race” may be useful for mobilizing resources and attention1, it may also be counterproductive for fostering trust and cooperation. Instead of viewing AI as a zero-sum game or a winner-takes-all scenario, the US and China should recognize that AI is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that requires a nuanced and balanced approach.