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A grim future awaits the United States if it loses the competition with China on developing key technologies like artificial intelligence in the near future, the authors of a special government-backed study told reporters on Monday.
If China wins the technological competition, it can use its advancements in artificial intelligence and biological technology to enhance its own country’s economy, military and society to the determent of others, said Robert Work, former deputy defense secretary and co-chair of the Special Competitive Studies Project, which examined international artificial intelligence and technological competition. Work is the chair of the U.S. Naval Institute Board of Directors.
Losing, in Work’s opinion, means that U.S. security will be threatened as China is able to establish global surveillance, companies will lose trillions of dollars and America will be reliant on China or other countries under Chinese influence for core technologies.
“If that world happens, it’s going to be very bleak for democracy … China’s sphere of influence will grow as its technological platforms proliferate throughout the world, and they will be able to establish surveillance on a global scale,” he said. “So that’s what losing looks like.”
The U.S. needs to address the technological competition now because there is only one budget cycle before 2025, the year that China set as a target for global dominance in technology manufacturing, said SCSP CEO Yll Bajraktari. By 2030, Beijing wants to be the AI global leader, he noted.
“The 2025-2030 timeframe is a really important period for our country and the global geopolitical security,” he said.
The technological competition goes beyond conflict or a military focus, said Eric Schmidt, co-chair of the Special Competitive Studies Project and former Google CEO. His idea of winning looks at platforms.
One of the most popular social media sites is TikTok, which is Chinese-owned and operated out of Shanghai, Schmidt noted.
The U.S. also banned Huawei, a Chinese technology corporation, which outpaced American technology when it came to 5G.
“You can imagine the the issues with having platforms dominated by non-western firms, which we rely on,” Schmidt said.
The competition boils down to three battlegrounds, laid out in the Special Competitive Studies Project report, Bajraktari said. Those three spaces are AI, chips and 5G.
“And the importance to get these three battlegrounds right is really critical because as I’ve said, this is not just about military competition,” Bajraktari said. “This is about all the benefits that all these three battlegrounds will bring to our economy and our society. And ultimately, you know, our military can use it too.”
When it comes to 5G, the U.S. does not yet have a good plan to compete with China, he said, pointing to Huawei as an example. Beijing also controls about 70 percent of African 4G, he said.
China has also invested billions of dollars toward chip production, going all in, Bajraktari said. And for AI, the country claims it wants to be the global leader.
Winning the competition does not mean the U.S. needs to control the production of critical technology, but it does need to be able to compete in the arena, Work said. The U.S. needs to have a dominant position in technological platforms and control global digital infrastructure, he said.
“And we definitely want to be able to harness biotech for the safety and livelihood of our citizens and new energy,” Work said.
If the U.S. cannot plan to excel in the three battlegrounds, advancements in biotech and computer power and next-generation inventions will happen in countries like China instead of democracies, Bajraktari said.
“And so the stakes of these competitions are beyond just the military competition,” Bajraktari said. ”It’s about who’s going to enjoy the benefits for all the inventions that will come from this.”
Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy. Follow @hmongilio