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This article was published on February 27, 2020

Eric Schmidt says big tech needs government help to keep up with China

The former Google CEO believes that the private sector has been left along for too long

Eric Schmidt says big tech needs government help to keep up with China Image by: OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS
Thomas Macaulay
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Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW Writer at Neural by TNW

Eric Schmidt has called on the US government to “get back in the game in a serious way” so that the country can maintain its lead over China in the AI arms race.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, the former CEO of Google argued that Americans had put “too much faith in the private sector” to drive technological advances — giving China the chance to catch up.

Schmidt said his time as chairman of both the National Security Commission on AI and the Defense Innovation Board had shown him how this would have “profound ramifications for our economy and defense.”

What Schmidt wants

Although research suggests that the US currently leads the world in AI, China is on course to overtake it within the next 10 years — around the same time that the communist nation is projected to become the world’s biggest economy.

Schmidt urged the US government to reverse this trend by creating a strategy that first establishes national priorities across emerging technologies, with a special focus on those areas that can bolster defense and security.

He welcomed the White House’s commitment to pour billions into AI and quantum R&D but said the government still needed to double that funding. He also called for Congress to meet President Trump’s request for a huge increase in defense R&D funding, which the Pentagon could use to build new military capabilities.

[Read: Pentagon unveils toothless ethical principles for using AI in war]

Schmidt also wants to incentivize the emergence of an American competitor to Huawei, more partnerships between government and industry, new ways to fund research, better training of scientists and engineers, and more global tech experts to come to the US.

Finally, Schmidt wants the government to take the lead on regulating tech — particularly AI.

His comments reflect a growing belief that Silicon Valley has for too long been left to its own devices. Whether the White House answers his call may depend on who sits in it come November.

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