3. Dysfunctional U.S. needs "Sputnik moment"
The U.S. is putting up relatively meager competition in a potent new global tech race that's reshaping global politics and could lead to war, Axios Future editor Steve LeVine writes.
- What's going on: In the late 1950s, the U.S., facing a momentous challenge from the Soviets' Sputnik satellite, threw all its resources into a single-minded effort to dominate the future.
- But this time, the U.S is failing to grasp the urgency, the Atlantic Council argues in a major new report, and could blow the race to lead the age of "geotechnology."
"Geotechnology today is what geopolitics were to the 19th and 20th centuries," the D.C.-based think tank says in the report, provided first to Axios.
- This means that the sciences underlying geotechnology — artificial intelligence, robotics, renewable energy, biotechnology, 5G telecommunications, 3D printing, among others — will "shape the future of human civilization" and "remake the global order," the authors write.
Robert Manning, the report’s lead author, tells Axios:
- The U.S. is slumbering: "[O]ne underestimates U.S. resilience at one's peril. [But] given our current dysfunctional political system, trends in education, and general aura of complacency, it is difficult to see a 'Sputnik moment' of across-the-board effort taking the steps needed to reserve these trends."
- That leaves Americans exposed: Absent the U.S. regaining its footing, trends suggest a China-centric future in which Beijing shapes global standards for 5G, ethics for gene editing, and norms and limits on AI.
- And look for this red flag: A sign for real trouble would be if "this burgeoning trade war results in some economic separation and reduced interdependence."
Be smart: There are numerous serious competitors for parts of the tech revolution, including surprising players, like Sweden, Israel, Japan, India and South Korea. But, as Axios and numerous others have reported, China, with more resources than anyone but the U.S., has already declared an effective Sputnik moment with its Made in China 2025 and Belt and Road initiatives.
- China's advantage, Manning says, is a "whole-of-nation mobilization of human, scientific and capital resources to dominate in technology by the 2030s. This suggests that, even factoring in its enormous waste, corruption and misallocation of resources, China will achieve a good portion, if not 100%, of its goals."
Go deeper: AI is the new battleground in geopolitics.