Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt stresses ‘urgency’ in countering China on artificial intelligence as US-China tech war continues

Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt stresses 'urgency' in countering China on artificial intelligence as US-China tech war continues

Jodi Xu Klein

·3 min read
 
 

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt called on the US government to fast track development of emerging technology including artificial intelligence (AI) to catch up to China’s lead.

The United States is “one or two years ahead of China, not five or 10” and “the Chinese are well ahead in areas like face recognition,” said Schmidt at a Tuesday hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee on emerging technologies and their impact on national security.

“Because of the diffusion of the technology, you have to expect that anything that’s invented in the open source AI world will immediately be adopted by China. So the threat is very, very real,” said Schmidt, who is also the chairman of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, established in 2018 through the John S. McCain National Defence Authorisation Act.

 

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Eric Schmidt (at left) and Brad Smith, president of Microsoft Corporation, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday during a hearing on emerging technologies and their impact on national security. Photo: AP alt=Eric Schmidt (at left) and Brad Smith, president of Microsoft Corporation, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday during a hearing on emerging technologies and their impact on national security. Photo: AP

The swift advances in Chinese artificial intelligence were partly due to the country’s supportive policy including its “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” introduced in 2017. Its massive population and weak data privacy laws also allowed China easy deployment of such technology.

“The government will need to help with some forms of funding, and we need to let the private sector build those things and make it successful,” said Schmidt.

“The private sector is America’s great strength. We move faster and globally than any government could and we need global platforms or be forced to use the Chinese ones which is a disaster,” he said.

Schmidt stressed that “urgency” should drive the policy, regardless whether the focus is on the public funding or private-sector initiatives.

Technology competition between the US and China heated up in 2018. That year, America’s national defence strategy identified 14 categories of emerging technologies including semiconductors, quantum computing, biotechnology, hypersonics, 5G, and artificial intelligence.

By the end of 2020, the Commerce Department expanded that list to 37 categories. Products that fall under these groups are under restriction as exports to China as they are considered crucial in shaping the future national security.

“I’m worried that we do not understand the competitive threat from China to what we’re trying to do,” said Schmidt, who is now co-founder of Schmidt Futures, his philanthropic initiative to promote emerging technologies and science.

“There’s a set of tech platforms which are going to happen, but they’re going to happen first in China unless we have a more concerted effort in America,” said Schmidt.

“I’d like to see a national list of key technology platforms that we collectively agree must emerge using Western values, and must be the ones being used by our partners,” he said.

“These are contests of values as well as investments. And it’s important that American values, the things that we hold and cherish so deeply, are the winners in all of these technological areas,” he added.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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