Sep 25, 2019

China is eroding the U.S. edge in AI and 5G

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The U.S. has the upper hand in pivotal emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing, in part because American universities and companies boast world-class talent. But experts say its dominance could soon slip.

Why it matters: The country that reigns in AI, 5G or quantum cryptography will likely have a huge military and economic advantage over its adversaries for years to come and will get to shape the technologies as they are implemented the world over.

A new report from the Council on Foreign Relations identifies the areas in which China is rapidly closing the gap with the U.S. "Slowing down China is not enough," says Adam Segal, an expert on emerging technologies and national security at CFR. "The U.S. needs to do significantly more at home."

  • China is vastly outpacing the U.S. in planning for and investing in critical research, and it is producing more and more top minds in AI and quantum computing. By 2030, China will likely be the world's leading spender on research and development, per the report.
  • Compare that to the U.S., where the share of government money spent on research has dwindled from 1.1% of GDP to 0.7%. Restoring that to historical levels is crucial, as about a third of patented American inventions in the last decade have leaned on federally funded research, the report notes.

What to watch: The U.S. needs to pull in scientists from around the globe to compete, Segal says. "China is producing 3 times as many STEM graduates at the undergrad level."

  • But increasingly restrictive immigration rules may keep Chinese scientists — as well as scientists from other foreign countries — at home.

Go deeper: Facebook to buy a leading brain interface startup

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Google scientists say they've reached "quantum supremacy"

Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, Google reportedly achieved a milestone by using quantum computers to solve a calculation in mere minutes that current machines could not complete in thousands of years.

Why it matters: "Quantum supremacy," the achievement Google is touting, would represent a big but early step toward reliable quantum computers that could solve some currently intractable problems.

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China's upgraded cybersecurity law could take a toll

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

China is applying tougher cybersecurity standards more widely as of Dec. 1, requiring companies to open their networks and deploy government-approved equipment. The changes worry international organizations and underscore the difference between U.S. and Chinese approaches to cybersecurity.

The big picture: China already has a law, applying to the most secure networks, that allows the government to audit private business networks and mandates the use of government-approved security equipment. That law will now apply to all networks.

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China offers drug companies market access in exchange for lower prices

Doctors visit a patient in the First People's Hospital of Yancheng in Yancheng. Photo: Xinhua/via Getty Images

China wants to have better health care at a lower cost than the U.S. or other countries — a plan that involves extracting massive discounts from pharmaceutical companies, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: The trade-off for drug companies is access to China's enormous population and, thus, a giant market, and Chinese patients are now paying much less than Americans for the same drugs.

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