In Brief
  • The United States' current levels of R&D spending on AI are one-half to one-quarter of the levels that would be best for economic growth.
  • Lagging behind in AI research could put the U.S. at a disadvantage if other countries get the opportunity to dictate how the technology is used.

China Leading the Way

The U.S. may be trailing behind China in artificial intelligence (AI) research — or at least in journal articles that mention “deep learning” or “deep neural network” — according to the White House’s National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan.

While the U.S. remains an early leader in deep learning research, China seems to be spending more time studying the technology and making influential contributions to the field than we are, according to White House’s research, leading the U.S. in both the number of published deep learning studies and the number of studies cited by other researchers.

The administration’s plan proposes future research and development projects in the field of AI and was released in conjunction with Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence, a report that overviews the current and future state of AI technology and its place in society. Both papers were shared in anticipation of the White House Frontiers Conference.

Data from the NSTC's AI R&D Plan. Credits: Office of Science and Technology Policy/The White House
Data from the NSTC’s AI R&D Plan. Credits: Office of Science and Technology Policy/The White House

AI should be a top priority

Both countries, obviously, are devoting a lot of attention to AI and deep learning, in particular. Speech and image recognition technology has majorly improved in the last couple of years due to better deep learning algorithms, but while the benefits of the technology are clearly being enjoyed in the country at present, it wouldn’t do well for the U.S. to get left behind in the actual development of AI.

“When AI stands to transform virtually everything including labor, the environment, and the future of warfare and cyberconflict, the United States could be put at a disadvantage if other countries, such as China, get to dictate terms instead,” asserts Brian Fung of The Washington Post.

According to the Preparing for the Future… report, “current levels of R&D spending are half to one-quarter of the level of R&D investment that would produce the optimal level of economic growth,” so the U.S. needs to step up, both for the sake of the tech and also for the safety of its citizens given the potential dangers of AI’s usage.

“Becoming a leader in artificial-intelligence research and development puts the United States in a better position to establish global norms on how AI should be used safely,” says Fung.