Growing investment and greater access to data about people is giving China the edge in the race to develop artificial intelligence, according to news reports Thursday.
“The Chinese government’s thoughtful investment in AI is a huge accelerator,” Andrew Ng, a former Google executive who now runs an AI start-up company, told The Wall Street Journal.
Western concerns about privacy and “the ethics of letting machines make important decisions” have led to new policies over collecting personal data and deploying AI, the Journal reports.
“Ultimately, AI advances are inextricably founded on the broad use of data to train machines as they go about learning,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer.
“The question is whether privacy laws will constrict AI development or use in some parts of the world,” he added.
Generally, large U.S. technology companies are leading the AI race — but the concern among industry observers now is whether Apple, Amazon.com, Facebook, Microsoft and other behemoths can remain in the lead.
In addition, the San Francisco area leads the U.S. in academic and corporate AI research, the Journal reports, and American firms far outspend tech giants in China.
Beijing, however, has kicked up its funding for technology development through a new government program targeting such industries as medicine and agriculture — and the military.
The country is also boosting investment in AI start-ups, with disclosed funding rising to $7.06 billion last year — versus $5.62 billion for comparable U.S. companies, the Journal reports.
On the regulatory front, privacy restrictions are expected to tighten in May, when a new European Union law that covers Google and other tech giants takes effect.
According to the Journal, the law limits the use of identifiable information about people — name, address, ethnicity — and allows individuals to find out why a computer, for instance, denied a loan application.
More than 120 countries have adopted privacy laws.
Regulation could be “a big help or a big detriment” to U.S. AI efforts, depending on how it is implemented, Ng, the former Google executive, told the Journal.
“Despite the U.S.’ current lead in basic AI research, it can be easily squandered in just a few years if the U.S. makes poor decisions.”
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