“AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire.” -Sundar Pichai, Google CEO
The space race was one of the greatest periods of innovation the world has seen. It was driven by fear and desire for dominance on a global stage but ended up being positive for all of mankind. The battle for artificial intelligence (AI) is the ‘modern space race’ and the U.S., like the Russians, is the ‘first in orbit’. However, a lack of government confidence in science research could be ceding the race to China, with consequences we have yet to understand.
May 27, 2017. Google’s Alpha Go defeats Go(围棋) world champion Ke Jie 2-1. Winning in this complex Chinese war strategy game exhibited the computational power of AI; as it has 10170 possible board positions, the game is considered far too intricate for machines to comprehend. This victory cemented the status of the U.S. as the leading power on AI technology. In fact, U.S. investments in AI technology are 1.5 times higher than China’s, and the U.S. talent pool is two times larger. Chinese companies currently buy semiconductor chips, an integral piece in furthering AI capabilities, from U.S. companies like Nvidia and Intel rather than developing their own. As the chip manufacturing industry is expected to go from $6 billion in 2016 to $35 billion by 2021, it will continue to a great advantage for the U.S. This, along with the work of companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Deepmind give the US quite the edge.
In July of 2017, the Chinese government announced a plan to make AI, “the main driving force for China’s industrial upgrading and economic transformation,” and make China the world leader in AI by 2030. In an indication of its aspirations for AI technology, China has put $20 billion into a new chip industry project already and could spend up to $150 billion according to a U.S. government estimate. Semiconductor chips are but a small part of China’s plan for AI dominance, and while the Chinese government and private firms are pumping funding into AI, the U.S. government is conversely taking funding away from AI.
Though the U.S. has had the upper hand for decades, such excellence could not have been obtained without governmental support. While the Chinese government plans to invest upwards of $150 billion on AI technology, it has been revealed that after a 10% budget cut, the U.S. National Science Foundation’s spending on so called “intelligent systems” will be a mere $175 million. This places the onus for the development of AI technology on private U.S. companies and is a significant handicap for the U.S. in the continued development of this technology.
Its aggressive investment in AI by means that China plans to be the first in this modern space race to ‘reach the moon’, and the U.S. will be increasingly looking to the East for AI excellence. AI: one small step for robot, one giant leap for all mankind.
 Deepmind was acquired by Google in 2014
 Chinese State Council (国务院), translated by Graham Webster et al. "New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (新一代人工智能发展规划)" last modified July 20, 2017.