For decades, the The US government has let the private sector and the free market do their thing, and it is the surest way to spur innovation and bring about progress to keep the US economy at the top of the world.
Now, with China’s rise, the approach is starting to change. Washington is taking baby steps toward something closer to central planning – to inspire, guide and protect progress in key areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum computing.
The last proof of a change in thinking is the final report of the National Security Commission for Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI). The commission was set up by the Pentagon in 2018 to study the national security implications of AI and related technologies and outline a plan to advance the US.
“If we keep things the way they are, China will surpass us,” he said. Gilman Louie, a venture capitalist who co-founded In-Q-tel, the investment arm of the CIA, and a member of the NSCAI. “We do not have the national strategy.”
The final version of the report, released on Monday, calls for major changes to the government’s approach to innovation and technology. Recommendations include that non-military federal spending on AI research be doubled to $ 32 billion annually by 2026; strengthening the US’s ability to make semiconductors; creating a national AI research network for researchers in academia and industry; promoting efforts to train and retain AI talent; and the creation of a Competition Council for Technology – which includes AI and other emerging technologies such as biotechnology and quantum computing – led by Vice President.
In another sign of the move, President Biden last week order an overview of America’s supply of semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, high – capacity batteries, and rare earth materials. The US relies heavily on China for these products, and a recent shortage of chips has hit the U.S. auto industry.
Louie says it’s not just about China catching up with AI; it is also that technology will be critical to national interests. “Artificial intelligence is not just a driver of things like the economy and quality of life and national security,” he says. “It will be the thing that nation states want to make sure they are in control of – and a competitive space for the two largest powers in the world.”
Louie says the US and its allies cannot afford to rely on AI developed by a political and ideological rival like China. “Anyone who knows anything about AI will tell you that it’s hard to develop algorithms that do not imprint your culture,” says Louie. “Authoritarian countries have different priorities than democratically led countries.”
The idea that the government should lead technological or economic progress through industrial policy has been out of fashion in the US for decades. But that is changing because of the competitive threat of a nation with a huge economy, a rising local technology industry and government strategy that emphasizes technological progress and dominance. Critics of China also point to rules that require U.S. companies to share technology and state-sponsored espionage.
Fighting China has been the focus of the Trump administration, which has taken aggressive measures against Chinese companies such as Huawei and TikTok. Biden has acted less forcefully, but also appears to be planning to address China.
Some quarters of the industry are asking for more government assistance. On February 11, the Semiconductor Industry Association asks the president to increase funding for semiconductor manufacturing. The letter notes that America’s share of global chip manufacturing has dropped to 12 percent, from 37 percent in 1990. ‘Our technology leadership is in danger in the race to take precedence over the technologies of the future’, including artificial intelligence, advanced cell networks, and quantum computer, ”the association wrote.