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Trump’s artificial-intelligence initiative is welcome but may not keep China at bay, executives say

ROBO Global US CEO Travis Briggs says China is strongly executing its strategy for AI while the US is still planning one
A generic representation of artificial intelligence
Trump's directive highlights the risk that the US could lose its AI advantage

President Donald Trump’s executive order directing agencies to make artificial intelligence a top priority is welcome but may not be enough to keep China from overtaking the US as a leader in the field, according to industry executives.

Trump’s executive order issued Monday directs agencies to share their data and models with AI developers and to come up with plans to help workers adapt to artificial intelligence in the workplace.

With China working on a multibillion-dollar plan for government investment into AI research and applications, ROBO Global US CEO Travis Briggs said the industry was happy to see a plan begin to take shape, even if it's “coming years later” than many had hoped.

READ: ROBO Global says surgical robots will lower health care costs

“While the US had a clear headstart in the race for global AI leadership, it was certainly not the first to set a clear and aggressive plan to lead the pack," wrote Briggs in a ROBO Global report. "China announced its own Made in China 2025 initiative more than three years ago.”

ROBO Global is the creator of the ROBO Global Robotics & Automation Index, the world’s first benchmark index to track companies that focus on robotics, automation and artificial intelligence.

The US government invests $1.1 billion in nonclassified AI technology, but this pales in comparison to China’s $150 billion commitment over the next decade, according to industry portal Engineering.com.

Moreover, China has made it clear that it intends to surpass the US technologically in the field by 2030.

China throws down the gauntlet

To this end, China has tasked four AI-oriented firms in China — Baidu Inc (NASDAQ:BIDU), Tencent Holding (OTCMKTS:TCEHY), Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA) and Iflytek Company Ltd (SHE:002230) — with developing AI hardware and software systems to handle autonomous driving and language processing so other Chinese companies can build on those AI skills.

“Considering that China has likely surpassed the US in AI startup funding and patent applications, we can’t rely exclusively on the private sector to drive innovation and derive economic enrichment from emerging technologies,” Shaukat Shamim, founder and CEO of video opinion search engine company Youplus Inc, told Forbes.

The Brookings Institution said there is "considerable concern" that the US federal government is not doing enough to support AI research and deployment.

ROBO Global’s Briggs noted that although the executive order increases access to government data for researchers and talks about the creation of a committee to establish fellowship and training programs in AI, the “plan itself is less than concrete.”

Plan lacks 'specifics'

“What the plan lacks is specifics,” wrote Briggs. “Details of the plan were released in a single-page government fact sheet that outlines these initiatives at a cursory level. The lack of detail has many wondering if it’s enough.”

Silicon Valley, America’s artificial-intelligence hotbed, has led the race in AI technologies for decades, but competition is now at its door.

“China is undoubtedly the largest threat at the moment, but other countries have also implemented aggressive plans aimed at grabbing the ring of AI leadership, including South Korea, Canada and France,” wrote Briggs. “If the US is serious about maintaining its leadership in AI, now is the time to do much more than simply announce wise intentions.”

Contact Uttara Choudhury at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter@UttaraProactive 

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