US should extend export ban, bump AI spending: Ex-Google chief

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Chinese and American flags during US Army Chief visit to the People’s Liberation Army in Beijing, 2014. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Sgt Mikki Sprenkle)

Led by ex-Google chief Eric Schmidt, a US defense committee urged the government to increase its spending on artificial intelligence (AI) research and continue the use of export bans to ensure its lead over China.

Why it matters: The report is the latest and most comprehensive effort from the Department of Defense (DoD) to create a blueprint for safeguarding American interests against the rise of China as a global leader in AI. The National Security Commission on AI (NSCAI) released its first interim report on Monday, outlining key strategic concerns and proposing next steps.

“We are a pro-America Commission, and the final report will say how we will win this competition.”

⁠—Eric Schmidt, NSCAI chair

Details: The NSCAI recommended that the US enhance domestic and allied cooperation while expanding export controls on target technologies and protecting American research from  “state-directed espionage.”

  • “US and allied AI hardware advantages,” referring to the leadership in semiconductors held by the US, Japan, and the Netherlands, must be protected through multilateral export restrictions, the commission wrote.
  • Due to AI’s multiple applications, traditional item-based controls may not suffice, the report said. Instead, regulators should scrutinize potential end-use and the “end user of specific items, to prevent their use for malicious purposes,” the report said.
  • But the US and its allies should be careful about possible retribution from Beijing, NSCAI warned.
  • Universities should be “part of the solution,” the report said, meaning that they should work with law enforcement and intelligence services to keep American secrets. Preventing “direct or indirect assistance to China’s military and intelligence apparatus” should be top priority, the commission wrote.
  • At the same time, the US should be open to collaboration with China on global standard-setting for safe use of AI.
  • The report named the following concerns: China’s spending on research and development of AI, the ballooning commercial competitiveness of Chinese tech giants which is “is being harnessed to promote national objectives in AI,” China’s use of AI in the military, and its transformation into a pole of attraction for global talent.

China’s share of global AI investment shrinks as headwinds take their toll

Context: The NCSAI was established by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, an annual US regulation that sets the defense budget. It first convened on March 11.

  • China’s spending AI research and development (R & D) grew by 300% from 1991 to 2015, according to R&D Magazine. In 2017, China briefly surpassed the US in AI-focused venture capital investments. It still lags the US, but is on track to surpass it by 2030, the year when Beijing has pledged to reach global AI supremacy, according to the publication.
  • In terms of academic research, China’s global impact has increased but is still behind the US. Researchers at the Allen Institute, a US think tank focused on AI, predicted that Chinese researchers will overtake their American counterparts in terms of citations by 2025.
  • Washington placed several prominent Chinese AI companies under an export ban in October 2019, including Sensetime, the most valuable AI company in the world.
  • American universities are increasingly scrutinizing their relationships with Chinese companies and research institutions. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford cut their funding ties with Huawei following its inclusion on a US trade blacklist.