Over the last year there has been a wave of thinkers warning against the dangers of AI. Thinkers from Yuval Harari to Elon Musk to X have all warned against unleashing this new age technology.
And yet, for Open AI CEO Sam Altman, the situation is very different. For him, the United States must lead the way in A.I or else fall behind their Chinese adversary.
Altman isn’t alone in this. AI entrepreneur Alexandr Wang has voiced similar concerns and in 2021, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt remarked that “China is not busy stopping things because of regulation”.
All of this puts the U.S in a precarious position. On the one hand, it has the chance to lead and outperform it’s competitor. On the other, too much innovation risks domestic instability.
As things stand the United States has chosen the former option. For Helen Toner, Jenny Xiao and Jeffrey Ding, A.I. is too important to regulate and the technology will very define who wins the great U.S-China Tech War.
In the late 2010s, Donald Trump launched the first blow. He declared a trade war on China and placed sanctions on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods and services.
Amongst the thousands of companies affected was China’s leading technological firm Huawei. According to the BBC, the communications giant went from being the second-largest smartphone maker in the world, to being “essentially dead”.
Since coming into power, Biden has continued many of the measures introduced by his predecessor. This is the first reason why the U.S is currently winning the tech war.
Reason 1 – U.S’s Trade War With China
In late 2022, Biden struck a second blow and made it virtually impossible for U.S businesses to help China. Exports of Chips, Chip-making equipment and software have all been banned. Any attempts to develop or produce chips for Chinese factories have also been banned.
The move is in line with the policies outlined by National Security Commission report which outlined the choke points that define the AI race between China and the United States.
Chip making companies are far from happy about this and have voiced their displeasure. For Nvidia, the decision will have serious consequences for its global sales of semiconductors.
But Biden remains adamant about keeping the technologies out of the wrong hands.
Reason 2 and 3 – Lagging Behind and Dependence
Biden’s suckerpunch is made more devastating when one considers A. the fact that China is already lagging behind the U.S in A.I and B. China’s dependence on the United States for A.I.
According to Foreign Affairs:
“Chinese AI researchers we have spoken with believe that Chinese LLMs are at least two or three years behind their state of the art counterparts in the United States – perhaps even more.”
“The Chinese semiconductor industry can only produce chips several generations behind the latest cutting-edge ones, forcing many Chinese labs to rely on high-end chips developed by U.S firms.”
In recent research, 17 Chinese LLM models were using chips produced by Californian-based firm NVIDIA. By contrast, only 3 models were built with Chinese-made chips.
Combine this with the devastating sanctions and it makes for an incredibly dismal picture.
Reason 4 – China Regulates More
Chinese AI developers already face a far more stringent and limiting environment that do their U.S counterparts. Start-ups are said to be opting to base their operations overseas and sell to an international market instead of selling primarily to the Chinese market.
The shift is said to be driven by the increasing desire among Chinese entrepreneurs to gain easier access to foreign investment and to scape China’s stringent regulatory environment, whilst also skirting restrictions imposed on Chinese companies by the United States.
As things stand the United States has the reigns. Even if it does begin regulating, China remains at a disadvantage.
In saying that China could potentially catch up. Right now, Most of the world’s chips are being made in Taiwan. If China were to take the region, then this could give them precisely what they need.
Furthermore, numerous thinkers and former CEOS (Yuval Noah Harari, Elon Musk and Mo Gawdat) have come out and warned about the dangers posed by A.I. If left unfettered, the lack of regulation could end up backfiring. Whilst the U.S us currently winning the battle, this war is by no mean yet won.