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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
U.S. policy in the race to dominate the world’s most advanced technologies remains chaotic, pushing ahead in some areas, while others languish.
Axios’ Kaveh Waddell reports: The global contest in artificial intelligence and quantum computing, for instance, is in its most crucial stages. But experts say the U.S. lacks China's focus on winning everything.
In a report published today, the leaders of the House Oversight and Reform IT subcommittee — Republican Will Hurd and Democrat Robin Kelly — urge the government to step it up:
"The United States cannot maintain its global leadership in AI absent political leadership from Congress and the Executive Branch."
But U.S. political leaders haven't moved with the urgency the situation requires, Hurd tells Axios. China’s rapid rise in AI should shock the U.S. into action, Hurd and Kelly write.
The pair lays out high stakes for failure. "Whoever masters AI will have an outsize role in this world," Hurd says. Their report offers four recommendations:
Earlier this month, DARPA announced a $2 billion investment in research into more flexible and powerful AI. That’s progress, Hurd and Kelly write, as was a May summit on AI at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The bottom line: "There's not the level of interest and urgency and immediacy that we need from government right now," says Paul Scharre, director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security. "There is no national strategy."
Go deeper: Read Kaveh's whole post.
Huangpu port. Photo: VCG/Getty Images
The Trump administration is not only seeking what it calls fairer trade with Beijing, but much more — to upend the bedrock of the Chinese economy by forcing the chain of manufacturing supply out of the country and pushing it elsewhere.
But Axios' Erica Pandey writes that there are doubts about this end game of Trump's trade war. After decades of development and tens of millions of dollars of investment, few U.S. companies seem likely to move their manufacturing facilities out of China.
"It can’t be a replay of the Cold War division between the West and the Soviet Union — industries were nationally based back then and innovation wasn’t global. All this changed after 1990."— Jim Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies
China has been the world's biggest exporter for almost two decades and has poured millions into its logistics network so global companies can quickly move goods from factories to cargo ships. China also has one of the best-trained manufacturing workforces in the world.
Yes, but: Some companies are at least putting a halt to new Chinese production capacity.
What to watch: If a few big names try to cut reliance on China — even if they don't move out entirely — President Xi Jinping could make concessions to avoid disrupting the interconnected supply chain.
Photo: Ariel Skelle/Getty
Eager to use AI, some companies may be unnecessarily complicating easy business problems.
Kaveh writes: Companies are over-using complex AI techniques when they would be better served with simpler approaches. Rule-based systems, for instance, show their work, thus allowing non-experts to pop the hood and see why an algorithm is misbehaving, unfair or biased.
Deep learning, the most advanced AI technique of the day, approximates how our brains work, with layers of "neurons" that together identify patterns. The catch is that their reasoning is opaque.
Today, Adobe Research told Axios they now have a system that speeds up one technique for finding a good group of rules.
"There may be a problem for which accuracy is the only guiding principle," Adobe data scientist Ritwik Sinha says. But when decisions directly impact human lives, an increase in transparency may be worth a decrease in accuracy.
Extreme global poverty keeps shrinking (Stef Kight — Axios)
Navigating the age-old crisis of immigration (Reihan Salam — WSJ)
How the octopus got its smarts (Elizabeth Finkel — Cosmos) (h/t Jacob Feldman)
The coders of Kentucky (Arlie Hochschild — NYT)
Drowning in the fountain of youth (Emily Mullin — Youth, Now)
And a sausage. Photo: Jay Colton/LIFE/Getty
In Germany, like the U.S., book readers have become fewer as increasing numbers of people are drawn to shorter offerings online. But the NYT's Sally McGrane finds a small bookstore in the Hessian town of Bad Sooden-Allendorf whose owner has an answer for keeping his customers:
Sausage and bread.
What's going on, per NYT: In 2013, facing dwindling revenue, Wolfgang Fruhauf eagerly pounced on a local baker who had lost his lease and needed a new place to produce bread rolls. Then he added sausages, eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers.
The bottom line: Fruhauf found a way to save his store. McGrane quotes a German official explaining why it reflects a model for how to resurrect dying rural business centers elsewhere in the country. "Suddenly there is a meeting place, again.”