As China Marches Forward on A.I., the White House Is Silent
SAN FRANCISCO — In July, China unveiled a plan to become the world leader in artificial intelligence and create an industry worth $150 billion to its economy by 2030.
To technologists working on AI in the United States, the statement, which was 28 pages long in its English translation, was a direct challenge to America’s lead in arguably the most important tech research to come along in decades. It outlined the Chinese government’s aggressive plan to treat AI like the country’s own version of the Apollo 11 lunar mission — an all-in effort that could stoke national pride and spark agenda-setting technology breakthroughs.
The manifesto was also remarkably similar to several reports on the future of artificial intelligence released by the Obama administration at the end of 2016.
“It is remarkable to see how AI has emerged as a top priority for the Chinese leadership and how quickly things have been set into motion,” said Elsa Kania, an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security who helped translate the manifesto and follows China’s work on artificial intelligence. “The U.S. plans and policies released in 2016 were seemingly the impetus for the formulation of China’s national AI strategy.”
“值得注意的是，人工智能已经成了中国领导层的重中之重，且各项事务已迅速启动，”新美国安全中心(Center for a New American Security)参与翻译这份宣言并关注中国人工智能发展的副研究员埃尔萨·卡尼亚(Elsa Kania)说。“美国 2016年公布的计划和政策，似乎是促使中国制定国家人工智能战略的因素。”
But six months after China seemed to mimic that Obama-era road map, AI experts in industry and academia in the United States say the Trump White House has done little to follow through on the previous administration’s economic call to arms.
“We are still waiting on the White House to provide some direction” on how to respond to the competition, said Tim Hwang, who worked on AI policy at Google and is now director of the Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative, a new organization created by the LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and others to fund ethical research in artificial intelligence.
在如何应对竞争方面，“我们还在等白宫提供一些方向”，曾在谷歌(Google)从事人工智能政策工作的黄泰一(Tim Hwang)说。他现在是人工智能伦理与管理倡议(Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative)的负责人。该机构是领英的(LinkedIn)创始人雷德·霍夫曼(Reid Hoffman)和另一些人新创立的一个组织，旨在为人工智能领域的伦理研究提供资金。
China’s embrace of AI comes at a crucial time in the development of the technology and just as the lead long enjoyed by the United States has started to dwindle.
For decades, artificial intelligence was more fiction than science. In the past few years, however, dramatic improvements have prompted some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley and Detroit — and China — to invest billions on everything from self-driving cars to home appliances that can have a conversation with a human.
AI has also become a significant part of national defense policy as military leaders and ethicists debate how much autonomy we should give to weapons that can think for themselves.
U.S. companies like Amazon and Google have done more than anyone to turn AI concepts into real products. But for a number of reasons, including concerns that the Trump administration will limit the number of immigrant engineers allowed into the United States, much of the critical research being done on artificial intelligence is migrating to other countries, including tech hot spots like Toronto, London and Beijing.
To China’s growing tech community, driving the industry’s next big thing — a mantra of Silicon Valley — is becoming a tantalizing possibility.
“Thanks to the size of the market and the rapid experimentation, China is going to become one of the most powerful — if not the most powerful — AI countries in the world,” said Kai Fu-Lee, a former Microsoft and Google executive who now runs a prominent Chinese venture capital firm dedicated to artificial intelligence.
The 2016 AI reports were shepherded by President Barack Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.
2016年的人工智能报告是由贝拉克·奥巴马总统的科技政策办公室(Office of Science and Technology Policy)领导撰写的。
The OSTP, which has overseen science and technology activities across the federal government for more than four decades, is now run by deputy chief technology officer Michael Kratsios. He had worked as a Wall Street analyst before serving as chief of staff for an investment fund run by Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist who supported Trump’s presidential run. The administration has yet to name an office director or fill four other assistant posts.
四十多年来，该办公室一直负责监管联邦政府的科学和技术活动。现在，该办公室由副首席技术官迈克尔·克拉特西奥斯(Michael Kratsios)管理。此前，他担任过华尔街的分析师，后来担任过彼得·蒂尔(Peter Thiel)运营的投资基金的幕僚长。蒂尔是一位风险投资者，曾支持特朗普竞选总统。特朗普政府尚未任命该办公室的主任，也没有填补其他四名助理的空缺。
In a recent interview, Kratsios was adamant that any concerns over the administration’s approach to AI were unfounded.
“The key thing to remember is that the front line of AI policy is at the agencies,” he said. “The White House is a convener and a coordinator.”
In an echo of plans laid out by the Obama administration, China’s government said it intended to significantly increase long-term funding for AI research and develop a much larger community of AI researchers.
There are several ways to do that, according to the Obama administration and China. First, educate more students in these technologies. Second, recruit experts from other countries.
At the same time, both policy statements urged companies to share more technology and data. Huge pools of data are needed to “train” AI systems, and in the United States much of this is locked up inside companies like Facebook and Google. Lee said China has an enormous advantage here because its large population will generate more data and its companies are more willing to share.
Artificial intelligence has been a focus of Chinese technologists for some time. By 2013, China was producing more research papers than the United States in the area of “deep learning,” the key technology driving the rise of AI, according to the Obama reports. Deep learning, which allows machines to learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data, is one of the key technologies driving the rise of artificial intelligence.
It is unclear how much China as a whole is spending. But one Chinese state has promised to invest $5 billion in AI, and the government of Beijing has committed $2 billion to an AI development park in the city. South Korea has set aside close to $1 billion of its own. Canada, home to many of the top researchers in the field, has committed $125 million to, in part, attract new talent from other countries.
It is also difficult to say just how much the U.S. government is spending. Government organizations like the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation continue to fund new research in universities and the private sector. According to an OSTP report, the federal government spent about $1 billion a year in 2015. The Trump administration says spending jumped to $3 billion in 2017. But the current administration said that was not an apples-to-apples comparison to the 2015 tally, because it was not certain how the Obama administration made it calculations.
很难估量美国政府目前的投资额到底是多少。美国情报高级研究计划署(Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity)、美国国家标准与技术研究所(National Institute of Standards and Technology)和美国国家科学基金会(National Science Foundation)等政府机构继续资助大学和私营部门的新研究。根据科技政策办公室的报告，2015年，联邦政府在这方面的支出约为10亿美元。特朗普政府表示，2017年的支出飙升至30亿美元。但本届政府表示，无法与2015年的统计进行可行的比较，因为它不确定奥巴马政府是如何计算的。
“We may have a bunch of small initiatives inside the government that are doing good, but we don’t have a central national strategy,” said Jack Clark, a former journalist who now oversees policy efforts at OpenAI, the artificial intelligence lab co-founded by Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive. “It is confusing that we have this technology of such obvious power and merit and we are not hearing full-throated support, including financial support.”
“我们可能有些在政府内部行之有效的小型动议，但我们没有一个核心的国家战略，”杰克·克拉克(Jack Clark)曾任新闻记者，现负责监管由特斯拉首席执行官埃隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)参与创立的人工智能实验室OpenAI的政策工作，他说。“令人困惑的是，我们所拥有的技术有着如此显而易见的力量和价值，我们却得不到全力支持，包括资金支持。”
The Trump administration’s budget for 2018 aims to cut science and technology research funding across the government by 15 percent, according to a report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
据美国科学促进会(American Association for the Advancement of Science)的一份报告显示，特朗普政府2018年的预算将在政府各部门内削减15%的科技研究资金。
“They are headed in precisely the wrong direction,” said Thomas Kalil, who led OSTP’s Technology and Innovation Division under Obama. “That is particularly concerning given that China has identified this as a strategic priority.”