3. Establish China as the world leader in the AI field by 2030

Trump’s announcement on Monday may be ambitious, but it seems the plan itself is less than concrete. The executive order includes expanded government funding for AI programs; increased access to government data for researchers and developers; and the creation of a committee to establish fellowship and training programs in AI. It also directs federal agencies to explore AI programs that can help them promote their own missions, and calls for the development of national regulatory standards around AI to help manage the ethical and other issues posed by AI technologies.

What the plan lacks is specifics. Details of the plan were released in a single-page government fact sheet that outlines these initiatives at a cursory level. The lack of detail has many wondering if it’s enough. In his book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, Kai-Fu Lee, one of the world’s most respected experts on AI and China, asserts that China may have a very real advantage over the US in obtaining technological dominance in AI. He argues that, “harnessing the power of AI today—the ‘electricity’ of the twenty-first century—requires four analogous inputs: abundant data, hungry entrepreneurs, AI scientists, and an AI-friendly policy environment.” He goes on to make a compelling case as to how and why China has the upper hand in the majority of these areas. While it is encouraging to see the US acknowledge the need for an AI-focused initiative, that alone will not be enough to win this AI arms race. As Lee calls out plainly, “how these two countries choose to compete and cooperate in AI will have dramatic implications for global economics and governance.”

Silicon Valley has led the global AI race for decades and it was only a matter of time before the competition began to catch up. China is undoubtedly the largest threat at the moment, but other countries have also implemented aggressive plans aimed at grabbing the ring of AI leadership, including South Korea, Canada, and France. If the US is serious about maintaining its leadership in AI, now is the time to do much more than simply announce wise intentions. Instead, the US must create and implement a thorough and precise plan of action to bring those intentions to life. In today’s quickly evolving technology landscape, competing globally—both commercially and politically—demands nothing less.

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