An Intel technician in Costa Rica, 2000. Photo: Gilles Mingasson/Liaison/Getty

One of the most important and overlooked arenas of high-stakes tech competition is the global race among companies and nations to invent and manufacture the brains of future technologies — a rivalry for the commanding heights in advanced computer chips for artificial intelligence.

What's happening: For decades, U.S. companies have held the lead in chips. But now, they are losing ground. America's biggest chipmaker says Chinese companies could catch up with U.S. chip advances within 5 years.

Driving the news: In a new policy paper shared first with Axios, Intel is calling on the government to implement a national AI strategy that will position the U.S. to beat upstarts in China and elsewhere.

The background: The semiconductor industry has been flooded with new entrants in the U.S., Europe, and China, each playing for a piece of a new pie that nobody's quite sized up yet. The new arena of competition: chips special-made for AI, a quickly shifting field that requires deep expertise in designing and manufacturing silicon.

  • Leaders Intel and Nvidia are under threat at home and abroad. U.S. web giants — including Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, some of the chipmakers' biggest customers — are increasingly making their own chips.
  • At the same time, China and other countries are pushing to rely less on American-made chips.
  • In an executive order last month, the Trump administration set down general goals, but without specificity or funding. Experts say it is years late. Chinese companies will pose a threat within 2-5 years, depending on the type of AI chip they're making, predicts Naveen Rao, Intel's head of AI. "I'm still a little disappointed [by] the speed with which we're acting," Rao tells Axios.

Intel's recommendations include several consensus ideas, like boosting federal investment in AI R&D and reskilling programs.

Their priority request: The government should unlock its vast stores of data — a move that, while raising thorny privacy questions, is meant to erase China's massive data advantage.

  • Rao and David Hoffman, Intel's associate general counsel and top privacy officer, both say the government should open up its health data, such as from the Veterans Administration.
  • The U.S. could also strike data-sharing deals with other countries, Hoffman said, gaining access to a bigger pool of data.
  • To get there, the U.S. could implement a national privacy law, which would make countries comfortable sharing data with the U.S., says Hoffman.

China's rise "hasn't happened yet in the AI market, but it will," Rao says. "I have no doubt."

Go deeper

Updated 49 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Ex-FDA chief: Pence campaigning after COVID exposure puts others at risk — Mark Meadows: "We are not going to control the pandemic"— COVID-19 looms over White House Halloween celebrations.
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week — Fauci says maybe we should mandate masks if people don't wear them — America was sick well before it ever got COVID-19.
  3. World: Italy tightens restrictions Spain declares new state of emergency.
Updated 55 mins ago - Health

13 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week

Data: Compiled by Axios; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

13 states set new highs last week for coronavirus infections recorded in a single day, according to the COVID Tracking Project (CTP) and state health departments. Kansas, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming surpassed records from the previous week.

The big picture: The pandemic is getting worse again across the country, and daily coronavirus cases have risen in the U.S. for six straight weeks, according to a seven-day average tracked by Axios. The U.S. reported over 80,000 new cases on both Friday and Saturday.

Senate advances Amy Coney Barrett nomination, setting up final confirmation vote

Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

The Senate voted 51-48 on Sunday to advance the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, setting up a final confirmation vote for Monday.

Why it matters: It's now virtually inevitable that the Senate will vote to confirm President Trump's third Supreme Court nominee before the election, which is just nine days away.