China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the dominant force in one of the most important technological fields of the future, artificial intelligence (AI), the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) has warned.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at the Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit on Wednesday that China is quickly catching up with the U.S. on AI and is about a decade away from dominating the industry. Schmidt, whose comments were reported on by Business Insider, warned that a lack of AI-related investment from the U.S. government will eventually weaken the nation’s military and commercial competitiveness. (See also: Artificial Intelligence Will Add $15.7 Trillion to the Global Economy: PwC.)
In an AI strategy paper published in July, China set out its goal to become a world leader in the technology by 2030. Schmidt reckons the country is well on its way to achieving this target as soon as 2025. Chinese companies focusing on AI research include tech giants like Alibaba (BABA), Baidu (BIDU) and Tencent (TCEHY).
“By 2020 they will have caught up. By 2025 they will be better than us. And by 2030 they will dominate the industries of AI,” he said. "Trust me, these Chinese people are good. They are going to use this technology for both commercial as well as military objectives with all sorts of implications."
Schmidt added, “Weren't we the ones in charge of AI dominance here in our country? Weren't we the ones that invented this stuff? Weren't we the ones that were going to go exploit the benefits of all this technology for betterment and American exceptionalism in our own arrogant view?"
Schmidt provided examples to support his claim that China is poised to dominate the field of AI. While many assume that the Chinese educational system is inferior to the U.S., he pointed out that Chinese people "tend to win many of the top spots" in Google's coding competitions. The former Google CEO added that the U.S. has been slow to embrace the latest software and doesn’t even have its own AI strategy.
In order to attract the best talent, he advised the U.S. government to make it easier for foreign candidates to work in the country. "Shockingly some of the best people are in countries we won't let into America," Schmidt said. "Iran produces some of the smartest and top computer scientists in the world. I want them here. I want them working for Alphabet and Google. It's crazy not to let these people in."
Schmidt, who also sits at the head of the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Advisory Board, was particularly vocal about how this lack of action could hurt the U.S. military. Computers, he said, are able to monitor monotonous things for a long time and then notify a human if something out of the ordinary happens. Humans, on the other hand, often make errors when standing watch, he claimed.
Schmidt warned that the military won’t be able to benefit from this type of technology until it starts offering AI experts more money. "We're in a situation where those kinds of people, graduating out of Carnegie Mellon and others, are in the highest demand I've ever seen with huge multimillion dollar packages in their twenties,” he said. “That's how valuable these people are in the market places." (See also: 10 Stocks For The Next Tech Boom.)