China openly plans to dominate artificial intelligence by 2030. Mr Trump appears too busy tweeting to have noticed. Yet China’s AI ambitions pose a greater long-term threat to US security than North Korea’s nuclear reach.
“Whoever becomes the leader in [AI] will become the ruler of the world,” Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said recently. His observation followed China’s announcement that it intends to draw even with the US by 2020, overtake it by 2025 and dominate global AI five years after that.
The big US tech companies remain world leaders. But the gap is narrowing. China has two key advantages. The first is that more of its economy is online than America’s. Forty per cent of global ecommerce takes place inside China, mostly via Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, the big three Chinese tech companies. Their ability to manipulate vast troves of data faces few legal limits. Likewise, their scale is daunting. Last week, Tencent overtook Facebook to exceed a market capitalisation of $500bn. In some areas, such as online payments, visual recognition and voice software, China is already ahead of its Silicon Valley counterparts. It is fast catching up on autonomous driving. Almost all such technologies have military application. Think of swarm drone warfare.
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