China’s Tech Rush Is Real, and Important

This week John Markoff and Matthew Rosenberg report that “China’s Intelligent Weaponry Gets Smarter [1]. The thrust of the article is that Chinese scientists are rapidly overtaking their US counterparts in Artificial Intelligence, including military systems.

Whether or not the Chinese will quickly catch the United States in artificial intelligence and robotics technologies is a matter of intense discussion and disagreement in the United States.

Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, said the United States may be too myopic and self-confident to understand the speed of the Chinese competition.

Ng is right. I have remarked in the past that China is not only catching up with the US, but is ahead in many aspects of IT, materials, and other science, including high performance computing, new displays, stupid wi-fi trickssolar energy, and even dinosaurs.

This isn’t big news. For a couple of decades the Chinese have been investing intensely in research and development, building and supporting universities, students, professors, and technology companies. In the US, the same period has seen a dramatic drop in support for higher education and basic research, and a brain drain into big companies (primarily in finance and advertising).

Furthermore, much of the best work coming from the US is done by immigrants from many places, but especially China. (I, for one, am proud and happy to have worked for many years with  dozens of smart people who came here from China and around the world. We have accomplished a lot together.)  Is it any wonder that Chinese research is rapidly surpassing the US, in most fields?

I don’t especially want to get in to political stuff, but it is important to note that defunding universities and schools at all levels in combination with very public hostility toward foreign scholars and researchers is a formula for a rapid exodus of talent to China, India, and anywhere that offers opportunity and support. This would be bad for the US economy and for US national security. I’m pretty sure that the smart people in the Pentagon know this very well, even if elected officials and tycoons are ignorant or negligent.

  1. John Markoff, and Matthew Rosenberg, China’s Intelligent Weaponry Gets Smarter, in New York Times. 2017: New York. p. BU1.

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