The idea of an artificial intelligence (AI) arms race between China and the United States is ubiquitous. Before 2016, there were fewer than 300 Google results for “AI arms race” and only a handful of articles that mentioned the phrase. Today, an article on the subject gets added to LexisNexis virtually every week, and Googling the term yields more than 50,000 hits. Some even warn of an AI Cold War.
One question that looms large in these discussions is if China has, or will soon have, an edge over the United States in AI technology. Dean Garfield, the president of a U.S. trade group called the Information Technology Industry Council, recently told Politico that such fears are “grounded in hysteria.” But many prominent figures disagree. Former Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt, for instance, warned in 2017 that “By 2020, [the Chinese] will have caught up [to the United States]. By 2025, they will be better than us. And by 2030, they will dominate the industries of AI.” And former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, among others, has argued that China’s advances in AI should spark a “Sputnik moment” for the United States, inspiring a national effort comparable to the one that followed the Soviet Union’s
All rights reserved. To request permission to distribute or reprint this article, please visit ForeignAffairs.com/Permissions.