AI Supremacy Between USA and China: Is it a ‘Winner-takes-all’ Competition?

This post could not come at a better time. This week, Didi was taken down from app stores by China’s Government due to data security issues. Besides the public reasons, the deep fight being carried out could be because of the data and access to it. As we know, AI models and all unimaginable algorithms models need quality data to become a reality. At this level, these two giants are now fighting vigorously.

China and the United States have consistently contested for the title of ‘world power,’ especially considering the notable and significant contributions each has made to global development through economic progress involving sectors like tech and business. They have each earned their flowers and have admirably worked for hand in hand to create game-changing technology for the benefit of the general public. 

However, the US and China competition – especially the battle of supremacy in the AI field – has tilted more towards an unhealthy path rather than a harmonized effort towards people-friendly technology. It has morphed into a dangerous concept of ‘winner-takes-all,’ which may sound like a great concept, but in the long run, could be detrimental to all the parties and players involved in the entire AI production process.


The Unseen Dangers of a Winner-Takes-all Mindset…

The misinterpretation of the US-China AI development as a winner takes all situation would be a huge distraction and a potentially endangering idea. It could lead to a breakdown of generally held ethics that keeps the AI industry within acceptable limits. Running with this idea could result in missing out on a lot of positive growth in the tech industry, as the goal of creating tech ideas will be shifted from making our continued existence easier to a tug of war on bragging rights. 

With technology, many concepts, innovations, and their eventual recorded successes are interdependent and ultimately transnational. Developments in AI are supposed to be great news for all, regardless of which country’s flag is hoisted and who takes credit for it.

For years now, China and the US have considered each other competitors in the race of AI development, and with good reason. Both players have produced several emulation-worthy innovations over time, and they have each earned their respect and bagged their coins. However, with the future that AI holds, everyone wins when the goal is to record progress – not to reap all the benefits when one side wins. 


What makes it more interesting is the fact that though these successes may be credited to a specific country, the entire production process must have been carried out by scientists and researchers from different countries who may just have found themselves in a country other than their home country. This makes it challenging to narrow down the rightful recipients of all accolades for progress made in AI.

That being said, progress made in AI cannot be viewed in light of a winner-takes-all situation. It would be for the greater good if none of the parties involved attempts to monopolize the AI market, whether in production or terms of returns on investment (ROI). Everyone can run the race together and achieve uniform goals when the focus isn’t targeted at who takes the glory and wins the battle of supremacy. 

According to AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio in his interview with MIT Technology, ‘…We could collectively participate in a race, but as a scientist and somebody who wants to think about the common good, I think we’re better off thinking about building more intelligent machines and making sure AI is used for the well-being of as many people as possible

Another AI expert Graham Webster, comments that the US-China competition, which reminds us of the US-Russia situation, should be incomparable, considering that the US-Russia situation stemmed from separate sources. At the same time, China and the US have intertangled roots.

A Healthy Rivalry?

Consequently, the attempt at creating a poker game result simulation could be catastrophic for investors and companies in both countries. A healthy rivalry between the US and China would still be beneficial if both nations were to maintain trade policies between each other and target the benefit of the general public. 

Also, the risks of a cut-off between them abound with the number of possible leaks along the supply and production chain in the AI, and tech industry, primarily as both countries rely on each other to manufacture and supply raw and finished materials used. AI-producing companies in the US mostly get their supplies from companies in China. These supplies are used to manufacture techs such as robots and drones. On the other hand, China invests heavily in the US tech industry, plowing heavy resources, particularly Silicon Valley. 

As of 2015, Chinese investment in Silicon Valley was recorded at $11.52 billion. Tech companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Alibaba have been beneficiaries of funds from Chinese venture capitalists. Laws and policies binding on Chinese businesses are also binding on some of these US’ tech/A.I. companies, making them inseparable.



These realities point to the fact that viewing the progress in the AI world as a winner-takes-all competition between the US and China is not realistic and should not be seriously considered. Policies and laws that would be birthed from this concept – should it become a norm – would be damaging to both parties, as each side would record losses due to the almost inevitable animosity that would ensue. 

The possibilities of developing good policies for both parties would be jeopardized by a winner-takes-all view on the AI race. Concurrently, policymakers could distractedly make sentimental and biased decisions that may pose risks for the future of AI. For instance, a commonly discussed topic in AI is China’s stance on data privacy, which depicts a seemingly restriction-less data-collection system instead of that of the US, which is heavy on data protection.

As already highlighted, both parties stand to lose out on potential mutually beneficial opportunities if the idea of a winner takes all is sustained, and policies to that effect are implemented in either country. Fortunately, Chinese and US relations make this suggested AI race for supremacy an unrealistic concept as more innovations in the AI world are continuously introduced to the tech world from the US and China. 

Synergy is a welcome development for everyone. It would be a shame for it to be ignored and for potential ground-breaking ideas to be unachievable if the goal of making great AI is thwarted to suit other ideals.

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