December 03 - 06, 2019
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Artificial Intelligence Research: United States vs China

By: Vamika Anand

Quality > Quantity

In July 2017, China’s government published an ambitious policy paper outlining how the country would become the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2020, aiming to rival the United States in crucial technology. The latest output of data of US and Chinese researchers suggest that China is on track to do so. While others say that by some measures China has already succeeded that goal – and a decade ahead of schedule.

In terms of sheer volume of AI research papers published, China surpassed the US in 2006 – but critics say that quantity does not always equal quality. Yes, Chinese researchers have published more research papers on AI than the US for several years, but rumor has it that questions have lingered about the credibility of those publications. However, according to Semantic Scholar data, a new analysis shows that China’s share of top AI publications is rapidly approaching that of the US. Likewise, the Allen Institute found that China is “poised to overtake the US in the most-cited 50% of papers this year, in the most-cited 10% of papers next year, and in the 1% of most-cited papers by 2025.”

Allen Institute’s researchers also found that America’s share of the most-cited 10% of papers declined from a high of 47% in 1982 to a low of 29% in 2018. Meanwhile, China’s share has been on the rise – reaching a high of 26.5% last year.

Government Support

Thought leaders in the AI space suggest that the US government needs to better support AI research. Although recently President Trump signed an executive order asking government agencies to engage more in AI, many in the field are skeptical that it will be effective. The order was vague, with few concrete goals and included zero funding for research. Other countries’ national AI strategies, such as in Australia, Canada and South Korea, all have included government investment reaching from $20 million to nearly $2 billion.

President Trump’s initiative also failed to address what many see as the biggest challenge in the field – attracting global talent. The number of top-flight AI researchers is limited and the limitation of immigration in the United States isn’t aiding America in improving its progress.

Chine, on the other hand, has committed to investing $150 billion to achieve the goal of becoming the world leader in AI. The nation’s approach is to promote its large technology firms, which create tight integration of AI into everyday applications. One example is Tencent’s WeChat applications, which is used across the country for everything from instant messaging to cashless payments. China also plans to use AI for surveillance and expects to add over 450 million cameras throughout the country by 2020.

However, the US isn’t completely out of the race yet and does have comparative advantages. Some of these advantages include the ability to attract top talent from around the world, allocate efficiently through startups, and a strong AI ecosystem that has been in place for decades.

As AI rapidly moves ahead, US policymakers must keep pace. In doing so, it will require greater cooperation and federal funding among agencies that work with emerging technologies – which the US has yet to implement.


A PwC report estimates that by 2030, 70% of the profits generated by artificial intelligence technologies will be shared between the United States and China.

Despite the competition to become AI’s world leader, China and the US can still work together to better capture the benefits of AI while simultaneously reducing its risks. Cooperation between the two nations can lead to sharing best practices for deploying new technologies and monitoring their use.

As competition produces a growing number of AI applications, China and the US have the opportunity to collaborate on the responsible deployment of AI.

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