When I was growing up the forefront of technology was the space race, the final frontier, and the protagonists were the Americans and the Russians. Now, there are new technology frontiers to break through and the nations fighting for domination are led by the USA and China. Added to these technology challenges is the impact of tariffs and potential trade wars on nations and regions individual ability to compete globally. So, we need to consider strategically the key battlegrounds and what the war means for the consumer.
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Top of mind for most, if not all, technology companies, as well as for governments, is the drive towards artificial intelligence (AI) and all that promises in terms of autonomous driving, and smart homes, factories and cities and much more. AI will likely be the basis of real change in how technology is applied in our everyday life, from selecting movies on Netflix, to diagnosing and treating diseases like cancer or diabetes, and even to running parts of our personal lives we never imagined delegating to anyone, let alone a machine.
AI patents and investments are numerous in every nation, but the USA and China are leading the world by a substantial distance. Baidu Group President and COO Qi Lu spoke at CES in Las Vegas this January, starting that the company is pivoting from search (Baidu is China’s largest search engine) to AI, with platforms that support consumers and industry alike.
Qi Lu at CES
As an example, they are working with the automotive industry in China and expect to be the first to deliver level three and level four autonomous vehicles. These two giant economies are not the only protagonists in the race for AI dominance. Europe is playing a role too, with numerous startups coming from France and industrial giants like Siemens determined not to be left behind. There is no doubt that there are numerous countries with the potential to host and encourage the next big thing in AI.
The list of tech giants betting the proverbial farm on AI is substantial on both sides of the Pacific. The level of investment in AI startups through venture capital firms, crowdfunding, accelerators, and incubators is rising at a dizzying rate. Companies like Cisco, IBM, Intel, AWS, Google, Facebook, Apple, Siemens, in fact just about every tech company in the Fortune 500 is fully committed to AI and its potential in their industry and beyond. Some see AI as a route to disrupt their existing industries while other see it as a way into new markets. Some, like Cisco, Siemens, IBM, Google, and AWS, see their play as the platform or backbone providers, while others are focused on the application side of this new and potentially explosive sector.
Delivering platforms and infrastructure is just one area where government can play a role in assuring they play their part in the AI market. Another is the encouragement of businesses, whether major technology players, or the small startups with innovative solutions or niche applications, to develop AI solutions. China, perhaps more than the United States, has been busy building AI clusters and supporting development of technology through government incentives and investment. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the dominant technology companies that are investing their own substantial cash reserves and profits into developing the best AI systems and solutions.
Sitting behind the AI race is another important technology building block that offers the ability to drive greater use of AI in mobile applications. That technology is 5G, with its potential for close to zero latency and the data speeds that will be needed for AI applications and complex data driven ecosystems like smart cites. This too is a race for supremacy that both China and the USA are determined to win. According to CTIA, a trade association for the U.S. wireless industry, China is the country most ready to launch 5G, while the US is third after South Korea.
It’s far from clear at this stage who might be the winners and losers in the AI race, but what is clear is that both China and the US share an unerring determination to lead and to be the first to capitalize on the exceptional value these technologies offer. But rest assured, beyond the commercial value of leadership, the kudos on the world stage for the dominant nation is equal to, if not greater than that of landing the first man on the moon.