During his opening remarks before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, Sam Altman, the chief executive of the artificial intelligence start-up OpenAI, confirmed what many-a-Luddite have long feared: AI is here to stay, and its proliferation is unavoidable.
Expressing his belief that AI could be used to empower humanity but without guide rails, Altman said its unregulated use could wreak havoc: “OpenAI was founded on the belief that artificial intelligence has the potential to improve nearly every aspect of our lives, but also that it creates serious risks.”
AI, like every other major technological development, presents us with major questions about man’s relationship with nature and how we interface with reality. AI is no exception to this; if anything, it further complicates man’s relationship with the metaphysical, but that’s for another time. In terms of our immediate physical reality, beyond questions of societal redundancy through economic displacement, artificial intelligence presents challenges about the rapidly evolving geopolitical conditions the U.S. is not prepared to adequately address.
In particular, the ongoing digital arms race exposes the U.S. as lacking a cohesive national vision for the integration and utilization of artificial intelligence when compared to Red China’s national strategy.
China is Pursuing Global AI Dominance
China poses the greatest threat to American interests abroad — to insist otherwise is either ignorant or naive. In 2016, U.S. Air Force officials and the Obama White House warned that the Chinese Communist Party had an extremely well-funded and methodological approach to developing AI. Very clearly attempting to become the world’s leader in artificial intelligence, it was estimated at the time that China intended to invest $70 billion specifically into artificial intelligence research and recently China both increased the number of AI patents filed within the country by 200 percent and surpassed the U.S. in terms of patents filed in a single year. At the same time, communist China’s theft of American intellectual property has continued unabated as agents of the autocratic state steal sensitive information about American tech corporations and universities.
Vying for the role of hegemon — evident through the establishment of global economic initiatives such as Belt and Road that increase global dependency on Chinese markets, and burgeoning financial alliances like BRICS that threaten the U.S. dollar’s status as the global reserve currency — China views artificial intelligence as paramount to attaining global power and tightening its grip on its citizens.
According to the State Council of China, the autocracy’s chief administrative authority chaired by President Xi Jinping, China intends to become the global leader in AI by 2030 with “breakthroughs in the integration of human-computer interaction,” increasing the value of globally strategic portions of its tech sector by trillions of dollars.
AI technologies also provide the digital infrastructure for Red China’s massive surveillance apparatus — as seen with the country’s processing of the Uighur Muslims into “re-education” camps — which it uses to monitor and track behavior and subsequently throttle people’s access to basic goods and transportation.
Despite the morally disordered nature of China’s operation, it is undeniable the CCP has a cohesive and organized approach to artificial intelligence. It is being implemented and utilized in ways that advance the Chinese government’s interests at home and abroad. The same can’t necessarily be said of the U.S., which lacks a consistent and focused national strategy.
Assessing America’s Approach to AI
When announcing the White House budget for FY 2021, the Trump administration declared it would pour $142.2 billion — a 6 percent increase from FY 2020 — into research and development for quantum computing and artificial intelligence, focusing on strategic industries and national defense. This was soon followed by the creation of the nation’s first-ever AI strategy, a commitment to doubling the country’s funding of AI research, a pledge to build international alliances with a shared understanding of how to utilize AI, and guidelines for how the government ought to implement it.
Despite this effort initially being expected to greatly increase the federal government’s funding of AI research and development, the Biden administration has been lacking. For instance, the White House budget for FY 2022 doesn’t even mention artificial intelligence.
And whereas the proposed budget for FY 2023 allocated billions of dollars toward AI, it was disproportionately directed to initiatives that “advance the [n]ation’s understanding of climate change; identify and accelerate novel technologies for clean energy solutions; provide new computing insight through quantum information science and artificial intelligence that would address scientific and environmental challenges.” Very little of the money designed for AI was actually allocated for purposes of cybersecurity or national defense.
However, it does appear that the U.S. is starting to play catch up with spending on research and development. The White House’s proposed budget for FY 2024 touts the CHIPS Act, which poured nearly $300 billion into subsidies and grants to stimulate the domestic manufacturing of semiconductor chips in direct response to the increasing threat of Chinese tech dominance. It also allocates $96 billion to the Department of Defense for quantum and AI research and development, and $30 million to start a National AI Research Resource — “a shared computing and data infrastructure that will provide AI researchers across scientific disciplines with computing resources and high-quality data.”
Similarly, this spring, the White House announced the National Science Foundation would spend $140 million to “launch seven new National AI Research Institutes,” which will collaborate with the administration’s partners in Big Tech. The White House said, “This investment will bring the total number of Institutes to 25 across the country, and extend the network of organizations involved into nearly every state.”
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) similarly announced an updated National AI R&D Strategic Plan that does outline how federal investments could be used to bolster the integration of AI into American society but ultimately appeared more focused on “cultivating” the “trustworth[iness]” of AI than on insulating Americans from adversarial use of similar technology.
However, despite the federal government throwing a frighteningly large sum of money into a vat of ideological pet projects that generally seem to backtrack on tech development, there is some reason for optimism. The U.S. Senate is preparing to introduce bipartisan legislation — The Global Technology Leadership Act — that will reportedly establish an office tasked with analyzing American competitiveness in critical technologies, such as AI, in comparison to global rivals in an attempt to stay abreast of China’s technological progress so we don’t fall behind.
When speaking to NBC News, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said there is “no one in the federal government who can tell us how — nor frankly in the United States of America, really — who can tell us how the U.S. stacks up in comparison to China in critical technologies like AI,” despite the Department of Defense’s historic role in keeping tabs on adversarial technological progress.
Why This Matters
Metaphysical and economic queries and concerns temporarily to the side, AI technology has the potential to drastically improve productivity and output and, subsequently, material standards of living. Through rapid increases in productivity, it is expected to revolutionize crucial industries such as health care, finance, manufacturing, and transportation.
By allowing for faster and more complex calculations with unprecedented and theoretically infinite computational power, it could help facilitate breakthroughs in medicine, robotics, mathematics, and more that change the trajectory of human civilization. And with globally interconnected communication technologies and sophisticated algorithmic curation and detection capabilities that allow for the recognition of complex patterns, it presents opportunities for greatly enhancing national security through better facilitating intelligence operations and advanced defense systems.
Simply put, mastery of artificial intelligence is crucial for remaining competitive on the global stage, which is why, as articulated above, China is heavily pursuing AI dominance in its quest to topple the U.S. as hegemon.
Sources familiar with the operational status of Chinese AI believe the CCP greatly limits its people’s access to AI largely because of the technology’s ability to inadvertently challenge party orthodoxy, so AI is rolled out on an “app by app” basis. Programs such as ChatGPT are banned in China for this reason. If someone were to ask a question about the Tiananmen Square massacre — which, according to the Chinese government, didn’t happen — there is a risk of the public learning the truth about the event. Ironically, there are parallel issues with AI in the U.S., where it is integrated with deference to the programmers’ ideological biases. ChatGPT, for instance, is incredibly withholding and manipulative of information that challenges the closely held beliefs of its handlers.
And whereas the U.S. and its Western allies are beholden to certain prescribed methods of governance given our general shared affinity for human dignity — and thus have subsequently attempted to implement some form of regulation on AI so it is used for the betterment of our people instead of their subjugation (such as the European Union’s Artificial Intelligence Act and the White House’s Blueprint AI Bill of Rights) — China’s national strategy is holistically on the advancement of the CCP’s global agenda.
The Chinese Communist Party prioritizes its conquest — its consolidation of power, wealth, and global influence — over everything else, including human dignity. This is why Sam Altman’s recently expressed interest in collaborating with Chinese AI developers is cause for alarm. China’s record of stealing American IP alone should be reason enough not to pursue this inquiry.
Nevertheless, America should plow ahead. If the U.S. were to lose this technological arms race, and subsequently be displaced as hegemon, it “will erode America’s position as the provider of the world’s dominant reserve currency and ultimately lead to a funding crisis for America’s burgeoning internal and external debt,” David Goldman, a Washington fellow at The Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life, wrote in a 2021 essay.
Should this funding crisis arise and the dollar no longer be used as the global reserve currency, the U.S. will lose its ability to sustain its more than $30 trillion national debt as well as “unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities of perhaps $100 trillion.” The value of the U.S. dollar will all erode, as well as the U.S. status as the world’s premier marketplace. “China is close to achieving a critical mass of skills, technology and supply-chain depth that will leave the United States behind, as the US left Britain behind during the 20th century,” argued Goldman. This would mean widespread suffering and misery for the American people amid unprecedented levels of economic chaos.
That said, for the time being, the U.S. still has command of the global economic and cultural marketplace; people still come to the U.S. to do business, go to school, and escape totalitarianism. For these reasons, and many others, the U.S. has a strategic advantage over China in “brain drain” — highly educated Chinese expatriates fleeing CCP tyranny — and a significantly less regulated private sector in which business and innovation are rewarded through profit and cultural incentives. People actually like doing hard work in America.
In the short term, it’s likely the U.S. will continue to have a larger presence than China in the global marketplace. But without a focused national strategy on how to attain AI supremacy, the U.S. will be left in the dust, and Americans will suffer.
Decisive action is needed.