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Photo: Oed / ullstein bild / Getty

Artificial intelligence is becoming a dimension of grand geopolitics, with countries worried about who will achieve the big advances first, and the technology merging with traditional military doctrine.

Why it matters: AI is now "about political dominance. It's fear over who has the better AI system," Deepashri Varadharajan, an analyst with CB Insights who wrote a new AI report published today, tells Axios.

The Chinese juggernaut is broad, with an effort to deploy AI in its military, agriculture, logistics, healthcare and media sectors, the report said.

  • Worried about China's advances, Japan and India have combined forces to introduce AI and robotics into their defense sectors, the Times of India reports.

The trend is notable in two areas — patents and startups:

  • Last year, Chinese companies accounted for just 9% of AI startup deals done globally. But those deals comprised 48% of the dollar value, compared with 38% for American startups. In 2016, the Chinese share was 11.3%.
  • Chinese-backed equity invested in 31 American AI startups last year. U.S. firms invested in 20 Chinese AI startups.
  • Patents are not proof of actual innovation, but as an indicator of determination, 641 patents asserting AI were published in China last year, compared with 130 in the U.S.

China is especially keen on two strategic areas of AI — facial recognition, a pillar of its elevated efforts at state surveillance; and AI chips, in order to make a "direct challenge to U.S.-made chips," by companies like Nvidia, CB said. Other points made in CB's report:

Cyber is the new missile gap
  • Like the "missile gap" with the Soviets that then-Sen. John Kennedy claimed in the 1960 presidential campaign, governments today talk of cyber vulnerability.
  • Cybersecurity and conventional defense spending are merging, including defenses sought against ransomware attacks and election meddling. AI can help because "attacks are constantly evolving and defenses frequently face previously unknown types of malware," the report said.
  • 134 cyber startups have raised $3.6b in equity funding in the last five years. Larger cyber actors like Cybereason, CrowdStrike, Cylance and Tanium are nearing unicorn valuations.
White collar jobs in the bullseye
  • New AI-assisted software is encroaching on law, wealth management, trading, media — even coding itself. In the latter, startups are beginning to automate tasks like catching coding bugs, creating custom code and translating one code to another.
AI millionaires
  • BMW China, according to the report, last year listed a senior AI research job at $567,000-$642,000 a year. Other AI jobs were listed at $315k to 410k.
  • The problem is a severe shortage of first-rate AI talent. In response, companies are routinely offering salaries of $300,000 a year and above.

Go deeper

7 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.