The US is falling behind China in crucial race for AI dominance

AI dominance- The star who stole the stage at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, which just ended here yesterday, wasn’t the stuff of flesh and blood but of data-driven algorithms.

US President Donald Trump, China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Great Britain’s Theresa May were no shows at this gathering of global movers and shakers, occupied with more pressing matters at home.

That left hundreds of global business executives with less distraction as they turned their attention to Artificial Intelligence (AI), a term few of them knew even a couple of years ago and a technology they still don’t fully comprehend.

Yet in one session after another, they shared what they were (or weren’t) doing about it and learned how AI would transform their industries, their societies and international relations, perhaps as no technology before it.

Not even news late in the week from Venezuela shifted the conversation all that much. It may take weeks to determine whether Nicolas Maduro can hang on to power in Caracas with Russian, Chinese and Cuban backing — and against US and widespread Latin American opposition.

Yet even that big of a geopolitical story, in a pivotal Latin American country that holds the world’s largest oil reserves, couldn’t compete with a matter that was already hitting so many Davos delegates so directly, as an all-consuming bottom-line issue for companies.

Most troubling for the American business leaders in Davos, who had grown accustomed to being atop the global technological heap, was that they heard time and again how quickly they were falling behind their Chinese peers. Though it is a tech race most Western executives feel is only on its first laps, they heard how President Xi had declared a sort of space race or Manhattan Project around AI that is already delivering measurable results.

As a sign of the times, PwC used its annual survey of some 1,400 global CEOs – released every year here at Davos – to ask business executives whether they thought AI or the Internet would have the greater long-term impact. Some 84 percent of Chinese executives laid their bets on AI, while only 38 percent of their US colleagues agreed.

That was reflected as well in how those polled by PwC said they had already deployed AI in their companies. A full 25 percent of Chinese executives reported they had utilized AI broadly compared to just 5 percent of American executives.

“It’s rare you get that big of a difference between two superpowers,” Tim Ryan, US chair of PwC told The Washington Post. “It tells us we (Americans) probably need to make sure we’re thinking about it in the right way.”

China’s commanding position

He said that although most US companies now have pilot projects using AI, their Chinese comrades are already scaling their initiatives.

In my own Davos presentation, “The Geopolitics of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” I stated bluntly that China was on track to take the commanding heights of AI and that the consequences could be historic in nature.