When it comes to Artificial Intelligence, the U.S. is definitely ahead of China as far as technology is concerned. However, China comfortably beats America in terms of data size and cheap labor, opening up the possibility that the communist nation may one day become an AI superpower.
Cheap labor and AI
In the U.S., AI research is largely driven by private businesses like Google and IBM, who have limited access to public data. These companies can only use data that the customer has shared with them.
In contrast, the Chinese government funds many AI development efforts in their country. Even private businesses are given access to the humongous public data so that they can train AI to become smarter. Given that China essentially has 1.3 billion people and Beijing has no problem sharing all their information with AI developers, the U.S. is at a massive disadvantage against the Asian superpower.
However, China’s massive public data is just one aspect of its strength. Another advantage that China has over the U.S. is cheap labor. Almost all Artificial Intelligence systems in the world are still in their nascent stage. While AI may have vast storage and processing power, it does not yet possess the discrimination faculties of human beings.
For instance, a child would know that a black cup and a red cup are cups. But this knowledge needs to be taught to an AI. This is done by tagging several black and red cup images and videos so that the AI can analyze the data and understand that both these objects, though different in color, are essentially cups.
Tagging millions of photos is obviously a labor-intensive process. And this is where China’s cheap labor comes into play. The huge government push in the AI sector is reportedly leading to the establishment of “data factories” where the only task workers have to do is to tag videos, photos, and other useful data.
“The data factories are popping up in areas far from the biggest cities, often in relatively remote areas where both labor and office space are cheap. Many of the data factory workers are the kinds of people who once worked on assembly lines and construction sites in those big cities. But work is drying up, wage growth has slowed, and many Chinese people prefer to live closer to home,” according to The New York Times.
The U.S. and China are currently engaged in a silent arms race over AI, as both countries seem to realize that the one who builds the most advanced AI will soon dominate the world economically and militarily. The nature of AI itself is such that it will eventually spawn unknown weapons technologies and industries.
“Once a country possesses a machine with human intelligence, it could have the capability to keep all rivals at bay in perpetuity. But only China has made this a national strategic goal and put enormous sums behind getting there. The U.S. has yet to take this step, instead relying on private industry, in particular, Silicon Valley giants like Google and Microsoft, to carry the country’s interests,” according to Axios.
President Xi plans to make China a global leader in AI by 2030. Given that the communist government has used technology to censor free speech and crush opposing voices, having China as the world’s AI superpower does not bode well for the rest of the world or, of course, for the average Chinese citizen.