The U.S. must continue to invest in artificial intelligence to compete with China

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President Trump issued an executive order this week directing federal agencies to support the development of artificial intelligence. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

That’s because the U.S. is in a race against China to develop cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology, and it’s a race we can’t afford to lose.

{mosads}“Artificial Intelligence” (AI) may bring to mind any number of futuristic pop culture references, from “Star Wars” to “Westworld”and it may seem like something that’s decades or even centuries away. The reality is that AI is already here – it’s in the apps we use to navigate through traffic, it protects us from spam emails and more nefarious online security threats, and it’s what responds when we say “OK Google…” and “Alexa?”

Developments like these will not only continue to make our lives easier and safer, but also make it more efficient to do business and grow our economy. One study by PwC estimates that by 2030, AI will contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy, growing the global GDP by 14 percent. And according to research by Accenture, here in the U.S., further AI development by American companies would increase labor productivity by an additional 35 percent.

That’s why it’s so important for the U.S. to have policies in place that will allow U.S. companies to continue investing in research and development (R&D) of innovative AI technologies. We currently lead the world in AI R&D investment, according to a study by the National Science Foundation, but that could soon change if we have regulations that put American companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Without policies to support American companies’ ability to innovate and develop new technologies like AI, we are leaving a global vacuum that Chinese government-owned companies are eager to fill.

The House Subcommittee on Information Technology recently released a white paper on AI noting, “China’s commitment to funding R&D has been growing sharply, up 200 percent from 2000 to 2015.”

They go on to say that China expects to pass the U.S. in AI R&D by 2020, something that was reinforced by Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends Report.

The prospect of China leading the world in AI should concern every American. Greater Chinese AI capabilities—if left unchecked by U.S. capabilities—could pose serious economic and national security threats. Existing Chinese policies already permit the theft of our intellectual property through industrial espionage and other means, which costs American businesses hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

There’s also potential for other nations and bad actors around the globe to buy AI technology from China, leaving the U.S. and its allies at even greater risk.

So what’s to be done about this? The U.S. can’t force China to stop developing AI, but policymakers can support U.S. innovation.

U.S. policy towards technological innovation historically has been to sit back and let America’s innovators do what they do best: innovate. This free-market precedent has been followed by presidents of both parties for decades, including President Trump. The results speak for themselves, as innovation by American companies has changed the world for the better.

However, in the face of China’s expanding AI industry and the economic and national security risks it poses, it is clearer than ever before that U.S. regulatory policy should protect our companies’ ability to develop the best AI and set a standard for internet policies around the world that protect our national and economic security.

Supporting efforts by U.S. companies to invest in R&D will help the U.S. maintain our competitive edge in this rapidly developing field while also ensuring we are protecting our national security interests. And President Trump’s executive order aimed at boosting U.S. investment and development in AI is a good place to start.

This isn’t the first time U.S. innovation has been tested, but Americans know better than anyone how to dream big and achieve the impossible through hard work and determination.

American innovators can and will rise to the challenge to remain the world leader in the development of AI technology.

Michael Beckerman is the president and CEO of the Internet Association, a trade association representing global Internet companies. He previously served 12 years as a top congressional staff member, serving as the Deputy Staff Director and chief policy advisor to the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which oversees America’s Internet policies.

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