Sorry, but China is far from winning the AI ​​race

Nicolas Chaillan, the former Pentagon’s software director, is on a lightning press tour to garner so much fervor for his sweeping claim that the United States has already lost the AI ​​race against China.

Speaking to the Financial Times in his first interview after leaving his post at the Pentagon, Chaillan said:

We have no chance of fighting China in 15 to 20 years. For the moment, it has already been done.

Chaillan’s departure from the Pentagon was preceded by a “bloated letter” in which he signaled he was resigning in frustration over the government’s inability to properly implement cybersecurity and artificial intelligence technologies.

And, now he’s telling anyone who wants to hear him that the United States has already lost a war against China that hasn’t even happened yet. He is essentially saying that the United States is a sitting duck whose safety and sanctity rests on China choosing not to attack us and not destroy us.

And, let’s be clear, Chaillan isn’t talking about a hot war. According to the FT article, he said “whether it takes some kind of war or not is anecdotal.”

This is what you call propaganda.

Here’s why:

  1. The idea that the US is losing any kind of AI race to China is laughable
  2. Chaillan’s indignation is purely performative

The Score: No matter how you measure it, the United States is not losing the AI ​​race against China.

Among the top Chinese AI companies you’ll find Baidu, a company with a market capitalization of around $ 55 billion.

Let’s put this in perspective. Google is worth over a trillion dollars. It is 18 times more than Baidu. And it’s just Google. Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are also worth a trillion and they are also AI companies.

There is no metric, including talent count and lab size, by which you could tell China is even in the same class when it comes to AI. companies.

And when it comes to AI research coming from universities, the United States again leads the world by a big margin.

Not only does the United States attract students from all over the world, it is also home to some of the most advanced AI programs in the world at the university level. Between the cognitive research done in places like NYU and Harvard and the machine learning applications for engineering invented at MIT, Carnegie Mellon and their ilk, it’s incredibly difficult to argue that Chinese academic research outperforms the United States. .

This is not to disparage the incredible work being done by researchers in China, but there is certainly no reason to believe that China is going to overtake the West in a matter of time because of its university.

And that leaves only the public and military sector AI. What’s interesting about China is that, nationally, its government supports AI research far more than any other country.

Many experts believe that China’s massive investment in public sector research, combined with its authoritarian approach to controlling what the public sector and universities do, could lead to a situation where China overtakes the United States.

This, however, is a guess. The reality is that American businesses don’t need government investments. Unlike the US government, Amazon is not heavily indebted to its shareholders. Amazon is one of the most profitable companies in the history of mankind.

And there’s no law that says Amazon has to work with the U.S. government. He’s free to continue making money hand in hand and pushing the philosophical boundaries of what wealth is or how economies work, whether or not he chooses to play with the Pentagon.

The point is this: In China, all research is military research.

The FT article makes it clear that Chaillan’s real problem is democracy:

He also blamed Google’s reluctance to work with the US Department of Defense on AI and the extensive debates over AI ethics for slowing the US down. In contrast, he said Chinese companies were forced to work with Beijing and were making “massive investments” in AI without regard for ethics.

In some weird “give up your freedoms for the greater good,” his words might make sense. Except for one thing: the only major player in the global AI game that we haven’t talked about yet is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, more commonly known by its acronym DARPA.

DARPA is the US government’s version of Lab Q directs in the James Bond universe. He’s always on the lookout for technology – literally any technology, no matter how strange or unlikely – to be exploited for military purposes.

But there is nothing fictitious about DARPA or its work. DARPA or a similar reform agency adjacent to DARPA is the financial heart of thousands and thousands of academic studies and technology projects in the United States each year.

For the perspective: DARPA literally invented the Internet, GPS, and the graphical user interface.

I mention all of this to emphasize that there is no area by which you can say that the United States is not the world leader in AI. I’m not saying this as a patriot (Disclosure: I’m a US citizen living overseas and a US Navy veteran). I say this because it is clearly true.

In all fairness, Chaillan has clarified his comments since the FT article. On LinkedIn he wrote:

For those who have seen this article, I want to clarify one thing. I never said we lost. I said as is and if we don’t wake up NOW we have no chance of winning against China in 15 years. I also said that they are at the forefront of AI and Cyber ​​NOW. Not in 10 years as some reports mention.

Of course, 750-page government-funded reports always tell us we have more time than we have, so no one is held responsible for missing the already overdue target.

These are just common sense facts. We are competing with 1.5 billion people here. Either we are smarter and more agile, or we lose. Period.

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, eh? According to the FT article:

We have no chance of fighting China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it’s already over in my opinion, ”he said, adding that there were“ good reasons to be angry ”.

The bottom line is that Chaillan is spreading propaganda. He employs a centuries-old racist trope called “China Bogeyman”. The United States has used it for decades to publicly justify its inflated defense budget.

The idea is that American citizens should be afraid of China not because of its academic, economic or military technologies. But because of the simple fact that there are 1.5 billion people in this country who are not American.

Chaillan uses the Chinese bogeyman and his former IT director positions for the Air Force and the Pentagon as a political tool. Whether his goal is to run for office or to secure a senior consultant position in a conservative-leaning organization, the purpose of Chaillan’s far-fetched statements is clear: to pressure the public into believing that their security depends on everything. what it takes to protect against the looming threat posed by the mere existence of 1.5 billion people in China.

This is a baseless argument against the development of ethical AI and policies prohibiting the United States from creating and using harmful AI technologies.

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