US and China Race to Control the Future Through Artificial Intelligence
US and China Race to Control the Future Through Artificial Intelligence

By Shi Shan and Anne Zhang

News Analysis

As every aspect of modern life becomes more and more digitized, not just the economies of nations, but their sovereign influence will rely more and more on their command of technology, and especially the emerging technology of artificial intelligence (AI).

In the 21st-century information technology revolution, whoever reaches a breakthrough in developing AI will come to dominate the world.

“Artificial intelligence is a resource of colossal power,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at AI Journey 2019 conference, a major Eastern European forum on AI held in Moscow on Nov. 9, 2019. “Those who will own it will take the lead and will acquire a huge competitive edge.”

Putin expressed his concern about Russia’s role in the artificial intelligence race in the forum—its two competitors, the United States and China, are far ahead of other countries in the AI race.

“We must, and I am confident that we can become one of the global leaders in AI. This is a matter of our future, of Russia’s place in the world,” Putin added.

Though the United States is still the world leader in terms of AI, China is quickly moving to take its place.

On Oct. 16, Nicolas Chaillan, the former chief software officer of the U.S. Air Force, told The Epoch Times that the United States is set to lose the AI race against communist China if Washington doesn’t act fast.

“We’re losing this battle,” Chaillan said. “If we don’t act now and don’t wake up right away … we have no fighting chance in succeeding 10 to 15 years from now.”

Chaillan suggested if the United States doesn’t take aggressive action, it will lose its advantage over communist China in the AI field within ten years.

The U.S. advantages in AI that Chaillan mentioned primarily refer to the military field. However, in the non-military field, China may have the advantage. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) AI applications such as digital surveillance, big data, and cloud computing have long been used to strengthen its authoritarian rule.

CCP’s ‘New Way’ of Strengthening Authoritarian Rule

The CCP has prioritized AI development in recent years, making it a “key national development strategy.” It has mandated AI into many aspects of ordinary citizen’s life, not only to surveil and control its people but also to use its massive population to spur development.

To bolster the rapid development of AI, the CCP has issued a number of supporting policies and regulations, including its “Made in China 2025” and “13th Five-Year Plan.”

In 2017, China’s State Council issued the “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan,” emphasizing the significance of AI in helping the government understand and control society.

“Artificial intelligence technology can accurately perceive, predict, and early-warn the major trends of society. It can grasp people’s cognition and psychological changes and proactively decide the responses. This technology will significantly improve the ability and level of social governance. It is irreplaceable for effectively maintaining social stability,” according to the plan.

“It will have a profound impact on government management, economic security, social stability, and global governance.”

Hong Kong finance and economics columnist Alexander Liao said the CCP believes the emerging technology revolution—artificial intelligence—can bring new life to the authoritarian system, which was on the verge of collapse.

In 2013, the CCP proposed the “Modernization of National Governance System and Governance Capacity” plan and adopted it five years later in its 2019 plenary. According to Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese state-run media, the project is “a series of institutional arrangements aimed to make China’s governance system increasingly complete, scientifically standardized, and operate more effectively.”

In 2014, the CCP launched the “Social Credit System,” which linked the social behavior of all ordinary citizens with the large-scale monitoring system in mainland China. It adopted facial recognition and big data analysis technology to carry out large-scale social control with AI.

By 2020, the system has been integrated into almost all public service fields, including employment, education, loan services, travel ticket purchases, and more. This control method has been fully popularized in the form of “health codes” during the CCP virus pandemic.

“All measures of ‘modernization of governance’ are the basis for strengthening the CCP’s authoritarian rule to ultimately achieving totalitarian control, and everything is rooted in artificial intelligence,” Liao added.

China’s AI Surveillance

Industry researcher IHS Markit said the number of cameras used for surveillance would climb above 1 billion by the end of 2021, according to a 2019 report by The Wall Street Journal. That would represent an almost 30 percent increase from the 770 million cameras today. China would continue to account for a little over half the total.

Former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer Qu Zheng told The Epoch Times that the CCP’s facial recognition technology was already mature in 2018.

“They put the entire AI system inside the cameras; there is no need for them to monitor through screens anymore,” Qu said.

According to a new analysis released in May by research service Comparitech, 16 out of the top 20 most surveilled cities are in China, based on the number of cameras per 1,000 people.

The CCP built the world’s largest video surveillance network “Skynet” in 2017. To test out the system’s capability, BBC reporter John Sudworth went to Guiyang, Guizhou, to challenge it first hand, according to Newsweek. Tasked with trying to remain undetected for as long as possible in Guiyang, a capital city of about 3.5 million in southwestern China, Sudworth attempted to evade the facial recognition system but was captured by the authorities in just seven minutes.

In April, the U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence released a report (pdf) listing the CCP as a strategic competitor and viewed China’s development in the field of AI as a threat. “China’s domestic use of AI [surveillance and repression] is a chilling precedent for anyone around the world who cherishes individual liberty,” the author asserted.

Washington think tank Brookings Institution chairman John Allen and vice-chairman Darrell West co-authored Turning Point, a book on artificial intelligence, discussing how society can best utilize AI technology. The book mentioned creating ethical principles, strengthening government oversight, defining corporate culpability, tightening personal privacy requirements, and penalizing malicious uses of new technologies.

Qu believes that Western countries should formulate a convention in the field of AI as soon as possible. Once the CCP violates the agreement, it can impose sanctions accordingly.

US Remains A Major Investor in China’s AI Development

China’s great leap forward in artificial intelligence is driven by large-scale capital. However, despite the emerging threat, Wall Street remains the largest investor in the Chinese AI industry, according to Liao.

Almost all large tech companies in mainland China are supported by American capital. For example, Chinese tech giants Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba, and ByteDance—the parent company of TikTok—have been publicly listed and heavily invested in by Wall Street over the years. In turn, these Chinese tech giants invest heavily in China’s domestic tech companies, including Chinese AI startups.

Wall Street’s direct investment and venture capital have brought its high-tech business incubation mechanism to Mainland China, helping China create high-tech industries that compete with the United States. And yet, it is the CCP that controls these industries.

The Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), a U.S. think tank, estimated the CCP’s total R&D investment in artificial intelligence in 2018 was between $2 billion and $8.4 billion.

According to CB Insights, a business analytics company, AI startups raised a record $26.6 billion in 2019, spanning more than 2,200 deals worldwide. Startups in the United States accounted for 39 percent, China 13 percent, followed by the United Kingdom 7 percent, Japan 5.3 percent, and India 4.9 percent.

Source: CB Insights (Epoch Times Graphics)

AI is not a standalone technology but a part of the entire high-tech industry, including 5G, cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things, mixed reality (MR), quantum computing, blockchain, edge computing, and other new generations of information technology. AI and the high-tech industries mutually support and constitute the future of the entire social economy.

Beijing is the CCP’s primary training base for AI experts. Tsinghua University’s “Experimental Computer Science Class” was founded in 2005 by the world-renowned computer scientist Andrew Yao. And Peking University’s “Turing Talent Training Program” was started in 2017 by American computer scientist John Hopcroft who designed the training program and curriculum. Hopcraft personally taught and trained Beijing’s AI experts from undergraduate to doctoral degrees.

Andrew Yao and John Hopcroft are both recipients of the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The Turing Award is often referred to as the computer science equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Yao was both a Taiwanese citizen and a naturalized U.S. citizen before he renounced his U.S. and Taiwan citizenship to obtain Chinese citizenship. He completed his undergraduate education in physics at the National Taiwan University before completing a Doctor of Philosophy in physics at Harvard University in 1972, and then a second Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois in 1975. Yao has taught at MIT, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and Princeton University. In 2004, he became a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Hopcroft is a well-known American theoretical computer scientist. He received his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1962 and 1964, respectively. He has taught at Princeton University and Cornell University. Hopcroft’s textbooks on the theory of computation (also known as the Cinderella book) and data structures are regarded as standards in the field of computer science.

Presently, there are about 2,600 artificial intelligence companies in China. Most located in Beijing’s Haidian District technology hub, working closely with Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Controlling the Future

Artificial intelligence (AI) was initially an idea to mimic and augment human intelligence. However, AI technologies today are rapidly proliferating around the world. They are replacing humans in manufacturing, service delivery, recruitment, communications, the military, the financial industry, and other sectors, generating enormous financial interests in many sectors, according to Harvard Business Review.

According to a 2019 report (pdf) compiled by Deloitte, a global professional services network, experts predict that using artificial intelligence (AI) at a larger scale will add as much as $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

At the same time, AI developments have also created geopolitical contests. In a meeting with students in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “the one who becomes the leader in this sphere will be the ruler of the world,” according to an Associated Press report.

“When one party’s drones are destroyed by drones of another, it will have no other choice but to surrender,” Putin added, predicting that future wars will be fought by drones.

That same year, the CCP incorporated the AI developments into its national strategy and set goals to become the global leader by 2030.

The United States has long been the leader in the AI ​​field. Ahead of the CCP, the Trump White House had already outlined its National AI R&D Strategic Plan in 2016.

However, the CCP has become a major competitor to the United States in the field of AI with its rapid expansion in recent years. Deloitte’s report shows that from 2015 to 2020, the average annual compound growth rate of the global artificial intelligence market was 26.2 percent, while the growth rate of the Chinese AI market during the same period was 44.5 percent. Another report by Deloitte suggests that in 2025 the scale of China’s artificial intelligence industry will exceed $85 billion.

Source: Deloitte (The Epoch Times Graphics)

According to Stanford University’s 2021 AI Index Report, China’s number of AI journal publications has surpassed the United States since 2017. China’s AI journal publications in 2020 will account for 18 percent of the global total, ranking first in the world, followed by the United States’s 12.3 percent. However, with respect to citations of AI conference publications, the United States still tops the world with 40.1 percent of overall citations in 2020, which is significantly ahead of China’s 11.8 percent. The number of citations corresponds to the publications’ impact on the AI fields’ research and development (R&D).

Controlling the Data

Artificial intelligence leverages computer software and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind. Its features include text, speech, and image recognition, as well as robots with specific skills. More specifically, it is “a system’s ability to correctly interpret external data, to learn from such data, and to use those learnings to achieve specific goals and tasks through flexible adaptation.”

There are two crucial elements in the broad applications of AI; the graphics processing unit (GPU) and data. The GPU determines the computing power and the quality of data determines the time required to train the AI.

The central processing unit (CPU) has been known as the brains of the computer where most calculations take place, yet it is composed of a few cores with lots of cache memory that can only handle a few software threads at a time.

A graphics processing unit (GPU), on the other hand, consists of hundreds of cores through which parallel computing is possible. In AI applications, the architecture prefers graphics processors (GPUs) over the central processing units (CPUs). GPUs are particularly suitable for performing calculations such as analysis and prediction and machine learning.

In the GPU industry, the United States has an absolute advantage due to NVIDIA and AMD. According to Tom’s Hardware, during Q1 2021, NVIDIA commanded a whopping 81 percent of the discrete GPU market, with AMD capturing the remaining 19 percent. The two American companies dominated the discrete GPU market.

A 2019 report by the Center for Data Innovation compared the relative standing in the AI race between the United States, China, and the European Union by examining six categories of metrics—talent, research, development, adoption, data, and hardware. It finds that the United States currently leads in four categories—talent, research, development, and hardware—while China leads in the remaining two categories—adoption and data.

China uses its massive population for gathering and developing its local AI technology. Tang Bohua, a patent examiner in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), told the Chinese publication of The Epoch Times that the CCP’s lack of regard for human rights and privacy opens up a huge data set for them, while the United States’ respect for this rights keeps data incomplete.

According to Tang, the CCP forces Chinese tech companies to collect data of its users through various means. The collected data are used to train AI, rapidly speeding up the development of its AI applications.

“Western society believes there are dangers in AI technology; hence there are moral and legal restrictions. Also, there is privacy protection. As a result, the quality of the collected data may not be good and is unlikely to produce good applications.” Tang said. “AI is not an easy industry [in America].

“However, the CCP has no such concerns.”

That lack of concern allows for wide-scale data gathering and surveillance.

China’s Internet Giants and Big Data

Three major data gatherers for the CCP are the nation’s massive internet companies: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT). They have long-established plans in AI applications. The companies rely on massive data and infrastructure to offset their shortcomings in the semiconductor industry.

U.S. officials previously named these companies as de facto tools of the Chinese regime. The three gather data from internet users, then feed it into a massive AI platform, according to national security expert and retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding.

According to “China’s Rise in Artificial Intelligence,” a 2017 report (pdf) released by Goldman Sachs, the only shortcoming of BAT is the shortage of quality chips. The report identified “talent, data, infrastructure, and silicon” as the key inputs to AI and that China has the “talent, data, and infrastructure [but the silicon] needed to fully embrace AI.”

In terms of infrastructure, the three internet giants have their own complete platforms for collecting data and attracting experts. In addition, China’s nearly one billion internet users give BAT a massive advantage on data.

According to CCID Consulting, China’s largest think tank, the computing power required for AI training will increase exponentially due to the accelerated data growth rate.

Internet giants will require thousands of petabytes of data volume, while smaller enterprises will require petabytes, and personal data will require terabytes. One petabyte is equal to 1,024 terabytes.

Big data is the foundation of machine learning and the key to rapidly developing AI. The CCP obtains a massive amount of big data with the cooperation of China’s tech giants.

Developing Advanced Chips

According to the 2017 Goldman Sachs report, the only shortcoming of BAT is the shortage of quality chips. In fact, the chip production issue is not exclusive to the AI field but is also a problem in China’s high-tech industry. China is incapable of producing advanced chips and primarily relies on purchasing them overseas.

According to the Deloitte report, since 2015, chips have become China’s largest import item. Before 2015, China’s chip imports were close to oil imports, but suddenly, it more than doubled its chip imports to $220 billion in 2015. This figure exceeded $300 billion in 2018 and $350 billion in 2020. And its chip imports increased more than 30 percent from January to May 2021.

However, all three companies (BAT) announced new developments in 2021 for domestic chip manufacturing.

On Oct. 19, Alibaba unveiled a self-use Yitian 710 chip to help the development of its cloud computing business. The chip was reportedly manufactured using an advanced 5nm process.

In August, Baidu announced its self-developed second-generation Kunlun AI chip had achieved mass production using a 7-nanometer process. The chip is said to be suitable for cloud services, autonomous driving, intelligent transportation, and other related uses.

In July, Tencent opened online job recruitment related to chip R&D in AI and video codec, mainly cooperating with its gaming and online video businesses. In addition, Tencent has also invested in chip companies, such as Shanghai-based startup Enflame Technology, which designs deep learning chips for cloud data centers and AI acceleration products.

From January to May this year, China produced a total of 139.92 billion chips, an increase of 48.5 percent compared to the same period last year; the total number of imported chips during the same period was 260 billion, an increase of 30 percent compared to the same period last year.

Closing the Gap

The Pentagon’s efforts to maintain a strategic advantage against China in the domains of artificial intelligence and machine learning are being undermined by bureaucratic waste and a lack of urgency, according to a former Department of Defense (DoD) cybersecurity official.

Chaillan said his departure from the U.S. Air Force was to protest the slow progress of the U.S. military’s technological transformation. He said he did not want to watch China surpassing the United States.

He said that Beijing is taking the lead in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and network technology and is moving towards global dominance. In an interview with The Epoch Times, Chaillan stated that the U.S. artificial intelligence is still ahead of China in general but rapidly losing its edge.

According to Chaillan, the Pentagon was not doing enough to make contractors comfortable with working with the U.S. military partially due to a lack of transparency, resulting in big private companies such as Google abandoning government contracts and development opportunities. Beijing, in contrast, can mandate any company inside its borders to develop technology in any direction it chooses, thus leading to much more rapid development.

In addition, Chaillan is strongly critical of the bureaucracy of the Pentagon and plans to testify to Congress in the future about the threat the CCP poses to America’s superiority.

The Centre for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) at Georgetown University says China’s People’s Liberation Army is using artificial intelligence to simulate the invasion of Taiwan, according to an October report. Among other military objectives such as intelligence analysis, information warfare, autonomous vehicle navigation, and target recognition, the research showed that the Chinese military hopes to counter U.S. military superiority with AI.

A researcher at Taiwan’s National Defense Security Research Institute, named Xie Peixue, said both the Chinese civilian and military players use video games such as Command: Modern Operations to simulate the invasion of Taiwan, according to Taiwanese news outlet Democratic China on Nov. 1.

Command: Modern Operations is a war simulation video game using AI, enabling players to simulate every military engagement from post-World War II to the present day and beyond. Although it can simulate tactical attack scenarios, strategic scale operations are also possible.

Xie pointed out that this simulation software has a commercial version and a professional version. Not only are there many players in the private sector, but the U.S. military and national defense companies also use the professional version for wargames and military simulation analysis.

“The use of artificial intelligence in wargames is the future trend,” Xie suggested that both the U.S. and Chinese military are trying out AI in war simulation, but there is still a long way to go.

Big data is the key to AI’s research and development; the more relevant data, the better the AI is trained.

“The biggest advantage of the U.S. military is that they collect a large amount of data directly from the battlefield and actual combat training every day for AI training,” Xie said. “The AI trained in this way is more in line with the needs of the real battlefield.” He added that Beijing’s reliance on foreign software stems from its lack of battlefield experience and data.

Data is critical to AI learning. The more data available, the better the AI can learn. And China has one of the largest data sets in the world, though it’s not necessarily for military use.

In addition to strategic AI applications, the Chinese military is also catching up in tactical applications such as unmanned shooting systems, modern robot fighters, and airspace simulators. Although the U.S. military started its R&D 20 years ago, the CCP is catching up at full speed with the rapid development of artificial intelligence and machine learning systems in recent years.

Chinese Lieutenant General Liu Guozhi believes that AI will accelerate the process of military transformation and bring fundamental changes to troop allocation, combat styles, equipment systems, and combat effectiveness, even triggering a profound military revolution.

According to Liu, the CCP’s “information revolution” will advance in three stages: digitization, networking, and intelligence. Presently, the CCP military has successfully introduced information technology into its internet platforms and systems. At the same time, it is gradually advancing the integration of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, seeking to increase its warfare capability further.

Amid China’s accelerated progress in AI, Chaillan believes that if the United States does not take immediate proactive action in winning the AI race, it will have “no fighting chance in succeeding 10 to 15 years from now,” as the rules of the game will have changed.

Threat of Communism

“Communism seeks to destroy all human beliefs, morals, and culture in order to achieve world hegemony and global control. The development of artificial intelligence technology has enabled the Chinese Communist Party to see the possibility of using new scientific and technological forces to achieve its global dominance,” current affairs commentator Richard Hui said.

“Thirty years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, people suddenly discovered that the Chinese Communist Party had replaced the Soviet Union as a new threat to Western society. In many areas, the CCP has more global control than the Soviet Union back then.

“During these three decades, the CCP took advantage of the negligence of the free world. Through unfair trade and intellectual property theft, it turned China into the world’s second-largest economy and a manufacturing superpower. The authoritarian regime monopolizes social resources to rapidly develop AI technology seeking to surpass the United States in the new technological era.

“If the CCP wins the AI race, the destiny of mankind will face a huge turning point. AI technology can give birth to a new generation of intelligent weapons such as cyber weapons, which may be more threatening than nuclear weapons. These technologies can control and destroy a country’s infrastructure and weapon systems instantly. This will be the mode of future warfare, completed by touching a few buttons on the computer. This is no longer a scene from a science fiction movie but real threats facing mankind,” he said.

“The most important question is who will control such technology?”