An arms race — Artificial Intelligence is redefining geopolitics
Time for European governments to reinvent their playbook. Power will shift to the nations that can best attract, utilize and tax the profits of Artificial Intelligence. AI. Elon Musk tweets that the AI arms race might cause a WW3, China is set on world domination but European government’s only response is to pledge more money.
Developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t easy, nor does it follow a straight line and don’t expect the opportunities to be evenly distributed. It will unfortunately take at least a decade before we know if success is a result of first mover’s advantage. It’s now widely accepted that with intelligent algorithms and robotics most sectors can increase productivity with lower labour costs. Jobless growth. The impact on how and who works will be significant and many predict that we’ll need a new definition for “work”. The question less explored is where we’ll find AI hubs and which countries and companies will dominate the new economy.
AI is the defining geopolitical factor of our time. AI is changing the game in security, intelligence, production, healthcare, transport and media. It’s an arms race and the resources required to develop sophisticated AI are capital, talent and most importantly data.
Capital – Investing in AI technology seems like a no-brainer (pun intended) and is in line with how nations traditionally act. Strategies are ceremoniously declared and budgets are allocated to funds or technology companies with a vague but ambitious objective to support future AI companies. Great. The topic is clearly hot in the corridors of power and last year several countries declared their tech focus and ambition. French president Macron launched a fund of 10 billion EUR for AI-investments. UK Chancellor Philip Hammond’s annual Autumn Budget included a significant commitment to investing in technologies such as AI.
But the truth is that capital is a commodity and if Europe is to stand a chance we need to rethink our playbook and find ways to address the real bottlenecks to AI development.
Talent – Attracting and retaining the right talent is a real challenge as so few people on the planet actually know how to build neural networks for machine learning. To make matters worse our educational systems are archaic and still geared to creating job-seekers and not job-creators. The parents and countries that are rethinking how to equip next generations with the right tools to flourish in an AI-powered entrepreneurial economy will have the advantage.
Data – Data is the fuel of the AI economy. The technology may seem overwhelming, but the important thing to understand is that AI is developed using vast amounts of data. Think of it as masses of examples that the algorithms can practice deduction on – the more the better. The Economist wrote that data is the oil of our era. That is to say; AI-companies with access to the biggest pools of usable data flourish. Additionally, AI development is self-perpetuating – more data results in better AI and better AI provides more data and so on. Due to this, many people, including me, predict that AI will be dominated by data-rich tech giants with a massive first mover advantage. They not only have access to huge stockpiles of data, but also the network-power and expertise required to analyse it and gain insights. Today, the players on the forefront of AI are the likes of Google, Facebook, Alibaba, WeChat and Amazon.
However, governments also sit on data gold mines. By opening up public databases and responsibly cooperating with scientists, academia and trusted commercial companies, countries can nurture the growth of AI and attract the talent playing in this space.
In the west, it makes us feel uncomfortable just thinking about sharing public data, but let’s not ignore what’s happening in China. China’s goal is to become the leader within AI by 2030. It currently has three key advantages in the AI arms race; a big pool of data engineers, 750 million internet users and, in particular, a state committed to sharing data with trusted commercial partners. We need to just accept that it’s never a level playing field. Take healthcare, the Chinese AI companies with access to the 1.4 billion radiology scans and diagnosis produced yearly are developing rapidly and saving lives with quicker and more precise ability to identify and treat cancer. In a near future these are the companies supporting doctors and treating patients all over the world.
Last year the Russian president Putin stated that whichever country becomes the leader in the AI sphere “will become the leader of the world”. Elon Musk tweeted; “competition for AI superiority at national level” is the “most likely cause of WW3”.
To be a serious candidate in the global AI arms race, governments need to not only address capital needs but more importantly understand their role as a partner and key source of fuel – ie data. Success is hinged on investing in high risk AI technology, rethinking our educational system and allowing research and companies to develop artificial intelligent and train algorithms on data from hospitals, prisons, schools, energy consumption, demographics.
No one said it’d be easy. AI is not just about technology – it requires moral, social, security and practical consideration. If we aim high in Europe – governments and AI talent can work together to improve the diagnosis in healthcare, fight terrorism more effectively, treat young people with mental illness far earlier, send less innocent people to jail, use environmental resources more efficiently and much more.
Europe, it’s time to wake up to the fact that AI is redrawing the political map and we need to hurry up and rethink our old playbook to stand a chance.