Report: China will outspend US on AI research by end of 2018

Report: China will outspend US on AI research by end of 2018
Credit: Nicole Gray

The US House Oversight and Reform IT Subcommittee today released the results of a months-long investigation into Federal investment and oversight in artificial intelligence. There’s a lot to unpack here, and most of it is bad.

TL;DR: If the Trump administration doesn’t make drastic changes China will pass us in AI R&D spending this year, and will likely lead the globe in AI technologies long before the 2030 deadline its government issued last year.

On a day when the leaders of the free world openly laughed at US President Donald Trump as he claimed to have accomplished more than “almost any other” administration in US history, a bipartisan effort back home to make the White House care about the future took the form of a research paper.

Congressman Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, and Representative Robin Kelly, an Illinois Democrat, published “Rise of the Machines: Artificial Intelligence and its Growing Impact on U.S. Policy,” after spending the majority of 2018 holding subcommittee hearings to interview AI experts.

The common theme throughout the document is a sentiment of desperation: The US simply isn’t doing enough to keep up with China.

Hurd and Kelly write:

Underlying these recommendations is the recognition the United States cannot maintain its global leadership in AI absent political leadership from Congress and the Executive Branch. Therefore, the Subcommittee recommends increased engagement on AI by Congress and the Administration.

The chief recommendation of the subcommittee is for the US to step up government spending on AI R&D across the board. The subcommittee also recognized a recent US commitment to spend $2 billion on AI for defense, but insists it won’t be enough.

To show how dire the situation appears to be, the subcommittee even criticized US efforts to develop a quantum computing strategy, according to Axios. You know things are bad when unlocking the mysteries of the metaphysical universe has to take a back burner.

The paper states that an earlier congressional report indicating China is likely to surpass US Federal AI R&D spending by the end of the year remains valid. In nine months the US has done little more than stand aside, concerning AI, while the private sector maintains the nation’s position at the top.

This, according to the report, isn’t a valid strategy if the US wants to maintain an edge over China. Because China is all-in, heavily invested, and determined to be the global AI leader.

The subcommittee makes several recommendations for the Trump admin to avoid a world where China’s AI reigns supreme, but most of them require immediate action. These include urging the Senate to pass the OPEN Government Data Act, which would make certain government datasets available to the public, and to make AI a budget priority for every congressional committee.

The bottom line: A bipartisan effort in Congress used to indicate action was forthcoming, but the current administration borders on Luddite (two years on and government technology offices are still ghost towns). Unless Trump can be convinced that science and technology – especially AI – are important, we’ll probably be looking to China as the new global AI leader before the polls open in the US in 2020.

On the other hand, the Trump admin has been unwavering in its support for coal technologies — maybe the people who think AI is more important to our future are all wrong.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be using Duolingo to learn Mandarin.

Read next: Gaming Twitter showed its strength and rage after Telltale's catastrophic closure