AI Race Part 2 of 4: China’s Moonshot Effort for Dominance

Elias Kruger

China has bold plans for AI development in the coming years. The country aims to be the undisputed AI leader by 2030. They hold a competitive advantage in the ability to collect data from its vast population, yet they are still behind Western countries in algorithms and research. China does not have the privacy requirements that are standard in the West and that allows them almost unfettered access to data. If data is the raw material for AI, then China is rich in supply. However, China is a late-comer to the race and therefore lacks the accumulated knowledge held by leading nations. The US, for example, started tinkering with AI technology as early as the 1950’s. While the gap is not insurmountable, it will take a herculean effort to match and then overtake the current leadership held by Western countries.

Is China up to the challenge? Judging by its current plan, the country has a shot. The ambitious strategy both acknowledges the areas where China needs to improve as well as outlines a plan to address them. At the center of it is the plan to develop a complete ecosystem of research, development and commercialization connecting government, academia and businesses. Within that, it includes plans to use AI for making the country’s infrastructure “smarter” and safer. Furthermore, it anticipates heavy AI involvement in key industries like manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, and national defense. The last one clearly brings concern for neighboring countries that fear a rapid change in the Asian balance of power. Japan and South Korea will be following these developments closely.

It seeks to accomplish these goals through a partnership between government and large corporations. In this case, the government has greater ability to control both the data and the process in which these technologies develop. This may or may not play to China’s advantage. Only time will tell. Of all plans, they have the longest range and assuming the Communist party remains in power, the advantage of continuity often missing from liberal democracies.

While portions of China’s strategy are concerning, the world has much to learn from the country’s moonshot effort in this area. Clearly, the Chinese government has realized the importance and the potential for the future of humanity. They are now ensuring that this technology leads to a prosperous Chinese future. Developing countries will do well to learn from the Chinese example or see themselves once again politically subjugated by the nations that master these capabilities first. Unlike China, most of these nations do not count on a vast population and favored geo-political position. The key for them will be to find niche areas where they can excel to focus their efforts.

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Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. Does China’s ambitions scare you? Why or why not?

Q2. In what ways will the lives of people who live in China be improved by AI development?

Q3. Where do you think your country could excel in AI?