Is China more artificially intelligent than America?

Intelligence comes in many forms. Remember the IQ test? It’s what we use to measure a person’s intelligence quotient. Developed in France in the early 1900s, it is as a way of tracking a child’s intellectual growth. It is supposed to tell you how smart you are.

Then there is emotional intelligence, known as EQ, which measures how well you relate to others — how you assess emotional cues and respond to the feelings of others, known in business lingo as “how you read the room.”

Modern leadership theory says we all need a high EQ to rise in the corporate ranks. A person with a high EQ supposedly has strong communication skills and can manage their own emotions as well as those of others. That’s stressful just thinking about.

Human intelligence enables us to get advanced warning that a bank is about to be robbed or a country invaded. You put your reasoning skills to work and can solve complex problems, such as how to avoid the bank at the time the robbery is due to take place. Human intelligence ranges from simply picking up on a rumor to having direct knowledge of an impending activity. You can simply be a good sleuth or a trained, professional spy or intelligence agent, but the common denominator is being a human.

But as the world has gotten more complex, intelligence has grown exponentially in complexity beyond even human capability — in fact, so much so that it is almost “artificial.”

Artificial intelligence, or “AI,” is the new realm of real power. It includes data sets, computer programming, big data analysis, machine learning and highly advanced digital reasoning. AI capabilities are the global muscles that define national strength. And that is where America finds itself somewhat behind the curve.

New revelations by an outgoing Pentagon official, along with constant news reporting on cybersecurity, hacks and other invisible attacks, suggest that China is cleaning our clocks on artificial intelligence.

Nicolas Chaillan, the Pentagon’s former software chief, resigned recently, claiming that China is headed toward global dominance in artificial intelligence due to the relatively slow pace of innovation in the United States.

“We have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion,” Chaillan told the Financial Times, adding that some of the U.S.’s cyber defense systems were at “kindergarten level.”

Chaillan announced his resignation last month as an act of protest against the United States’ slow pace of tech development. Chaillan said America’s failure to aggressively pursue AI capacity was putting the nation at risk.

The sad truth is that these revelations about Chinese dominance over American artificial intelligence are not new. Think tanks, government agencies and international institutions have been reporting on the growth of China’s AI sector for years. A major 2018 U.S. Department of Defense report stressed that China was executing a multi-decade plan to increase the size and value of its economy, including with technology transfers, increasing levels of investment and acquisitions of U.S. companies and a specific focus on artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality. In short, AI.

China’s progress can be tracked by watching the financial and digital management of its assets and growing prowess in areas that rely on computing, such as gene editing and robotics.

What is new is that we are talking about China’s competitive edge more openly and honestly. The issue of Chinese “intelligence” has finally moved from elite circles to mass circulation. Ordinary Americans are finally becoming aware of our competition with China, especially at a time when there are supply-chain challenges and chip storages that leave us vulnerable on products and services, many of which China produces.

The added problem is a lingering pandemic, labor shortages in the United States and a divided Congress and American public, susceptible to disinformation, including from Beijing. The Chinese are always happy to assert their dominant spirit, but not always with facts.

So, what can be done to counter Chinese intelligence?

We must come together as a country to rebuild our infrastructure and invest in critical technologies, including artificial intelligence. We must acknowledge and address our shortfalls with serious investments in our own educational technology to prepare our workforce to compete.

Americans are intelligent. We understand the challenges confronting us, and we must summon the will to meet them. The time is now.

Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.


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