Sep 4th 2021

The AI Revolution and Strategic Competition with China

by Eric Schmidt

 

Eric Schmidt, a former CEO and chair of Google/Alphabet, is Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.


NEW YORK – The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century.

This AI opportunity coincides with a moment of strategic vulnerability. US President Joe Biden has said that America is in a “long-term strategic competition with China.” He is right. But it is not only the United States that is vulnerable; the entire democratic world is, too, because the AI revolution underpins the current contest of values between democracy and authoritarianism. We must prove that democracies can succeed in an era of technological revolution.

China is now a peer technological competitor. It is organized, resourced, and determined to win this technology competition and to reshape the global order to serve its own narrow interests. AI and other emerging technologies are central to China’s efforts to expand its global influence, surpass the economic and military power of the US, and lock down domestic stability. China is executing a centrally-directed systematic plan to extract AI knowledge from abroad through espionage, talent recruitment, technology transfer, and investments.

China’s domestic use of AI is deeply concerning to societies that value individual liberty and human rights. Its employment of AI as a tool of repression, surveillance, and social control at home is also being exported abroad. China funds massive digital infrastructure projects around the world, while seeking to set global standards that reflect authoritarian values. Its technology is being used to enable social control and suppress dissent.

To be clear, strategic competition with China does not mean we should not work with China where it makes sense. The US and the democratic world must continue to engage with China in areas such as health care and climate change. To stop trading and working with China would not be a viable path forward.

China’s rapid growth and focus on social control have made its techno-authoritarian model attractive for autocratic governments and tempting for fragile democracies and developing countries. Much work needs to be done to ensure that the US and the democratic world can package economically viable technology with diplomacy, foreign aid, and security cooperation to compete with China’s exported digital authoritarianism.

The US and other democratic countries are playing catch-up in preparing for this global tech competition. On July 13, 2021, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) hosted a Global Emerging Technology Summit that showcased an important comparative advantage that the US and our partners around the world retain: the broad network of alliances among democratic countries, rooted in common values, respect for the rule of law, and the recognition of fundamental human rights.

The global technology competition is ultimately a competition of values. Together with allies and partners, we can strengthen existing frameworks and explore new ones to shape the platforms, standards, and norms of tomorrow and ensure that they reflect our principles. Extending our global leadership in technological research, development, governance, and platforms will put the world’s democracies in the best position to harness new opportunities and defend against vulnerabilities. Only by continuing to lead in AI developments can we set standards for the responsible development and use of this critical technology.

The NSCAI’s final report provides a roadmap for the democratic international community to win this competition.

First, the democratic world must use existing international structures – including NATO, the OECD, the G7, and the European Union – to deepen efforts to address all the challenges associated with AI and emerging technologies. Here, the United Kingdom’s current presidency of the G7, with its robust tech agenda and efforts to further cooperation on a range of digital initiatives, is encouraging. The G7’s decision to involve Australia, India, South Korea, and South Africa reflects an important recognition that we must convene democratic countries from around the world in these efforts.

Likewise, the newly launched US-EU Trade and Technology Council (which in many ways mirrors NSCAI’s call for a US-EU Strategic Dialogue for Emerging Technologies) is a promising mechanism to align the world’s largest trading partners and economies.

Second, we need new structures, such as the Quad – the US, India, Japan, and Australia – to expand dialogue on AI and emerging technologies and their implications, and to enhance cooperation in standards development, telecommunications infrastructure, biotechnology, and supply chains. The Quad can serve as the foundation for broader cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region across government and industry.

And, third, we need to build additional alliances around AI and future technology platforms with our allies and partners. The NSCAI has called for the creation of a coalition of developed democracies to synchronize policies and actions around AI and emerging technologies across seven critical areas:

-Developing and operationalizing standards and norms in support of democratic values and the development of secure, reliable, and trusted technologies;

-Promoting and facilitating coordinated and joint research and development on AI and digital infrastructure that advances shared interests and benefits humanity;

-Promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law through joint efforts to counter censorship, malign information operations, human trafficking, and illiberal uses of surveillance technologies;

-Exploring ways to facilitate data-sharing among allies and partners through enabling agreements, common data archival procedures, cooperative investments in privacy-enhancing technologies, and by addressing legal and regulatory barriers;

-Promoting and protecting innovation, particularly through export controls, investment screening, supply-chain assurance, emerging-technology investment, trade policy, research and cyber protections, and intellectual-property alignment;

-Developing AI-related talent by analyzing labor-market challenges, harmonizing skills and certification requirements, and increasing talent exchanges, joint training, and workforce-development initiatives; and

-Launching an International Digital Democracy Initiative to align international assistance efforts to develop, promote, and fund the adoption of AI and associated technologies that comports with democratic values and ethical norms concerning openness, privacy, security, and reliability.

This momentum can be maintained only by working together. Partnerships – between governments, with the private sector, and with academia – are a key asymmetric advantage that the US and the democratic world have over our competitors. As recent events in Afghanistan have shown, US capabilities remain indispensable in allied operations, but the US must do more to rally allies around a common cause. This era of strategic competition promises to transform our world, and we can either shape the change or be swept along by it.

We now know that the uses of AI in all aspects of life will grow as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate. We also know that our adversaries are determined to turn AI capabilities against us. Now we must act.

The principles we establish, the investments we make, the national-security applications we field, the organizations we redesign, the partnerships we forge, the coalitions we build, and the talent we cultivate will set the strategic course for America and the democratic world. Democracies must invest whatever it takes to maintain leadership in the global technology competition, to use AI responsibly to defend free people and free societies, and to advance the frontiers of science for the benefit of all humanity.

AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process.

Eric Schmidt, a former CEO and chair of Google/Alphabet, is Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

© Project Syndicate 1995–2021

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "