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Amid Chinese challenge, U.S. mulls export controls on AI and robots

Photo of a four-legged robot.
Photo: Laura Chiesa/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The U.S. is considering imposing export controls on a long list of emerging technologies in a move to protect its lead over China in developing artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing.

Why it matters: China has been gaining on the American head start in these strategic technologies, and the U.S. is deploying new tools to keep it at bay. "This complex effort was undertaken primarily due to the perception that China was exploiting weaknesses in the system to obtain advanced technologies with potential military applications," said Paul Triolo, an analyst at the Eurasia Group.

Export controls are a "key component of the effort to protect sensitive U.S. technology," the government wrote in the Federal Register today.

  • With the announcement, the Commerce Department is beginning to fulfill its new responsibility to draw up controls on emerging technologies.
  • Commerce is asking for public comment on the definition of emerging technologies. The starting point is a broad list that includes biotechnology, AI, quantum technology, robots and advanced surveillance.
  • "The new legal restrictions … will take time to fully implement and enforce, but they show the determination of the U.S. government to protect technologies that are now deemed critical to the national security innovation base," said Triolo.
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