Artificial intelligence is rapidly becoming the torchbearer for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. AI is the next wave of disruptive technology, which will soon blur the lines separating the digital, physical and biological worlds. The current trends in artificial intelligence point to a significant change in the current global order. According to a report by McKinsey, it will boost the global economy by US$13 trillion by 2030.

Accelerating trends in artificial intelligence point to significant disruptions in the social, political and economic arenas in the near future. Algorithms will take over the workplace, replacing as many as 75 million jobs by 2022 and creating about 133 million new ones according to a report by the World Economic Forum.

The enormous pace of development in the field of artificial intelligence is forcing nation-states to re-evaluate their national policies. Germany, Japan, Russia and South Korea are among those that are battling for AI supremacy. But the two nations that are involved in a serious power struggle to lead the field are China and the US.

What distinguish them from the rest are the resources they have already devoted and the achievements they have made in the field of AI. This all started when China’s State Council released its “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan.” The plan outlines China’s aim to build a self-dependent domestic AI industry in the next few years. It has given China first-mover advantage in the development of AI by aiming to make China the world’s primary AI innovation center by 2030.

The Chinese plan has given serious nightmares to the Americans. Recently US President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating the “American AI Initiative.” It is often dubbed a responsive measure. China is way ahead in terms of quantitative research, which has grown dramatically.

The Chinese are more aggressive in their strategy, focusing on developing advanced AI that could contribute to strategic decision-making, while the US approach is quite orthodox. China is way ahead of the rest of the industrialized world in AI implementation, with up to 85% of companies identifiable as “active players” in AI.

Sense Time is a Chinese AI company that has reported the highest ever valuation (up to $4.5 billion) to date among AI startups. Beijing is investing heavily in quantum computing, the cutting-edge field that will exponentially increase computation power by blurring the bits of information coded as zeros and ones into “qubits” that can be both zeros and ones at the same time.

AI superpower race

China has AI fever, and so does the US. Chinese students are enrolling in advanced degree programs in the field. The US has certain advantages, such as the best universities in the world and, historically at least, immigrants who want to come from all around the world. But in the AI age, data will be the new oil and China will be the new Saudi Arabia. The US may have the research edge, but China has the implementation edge.

China’s advantages in AI are due to the sheer size of its population, vibrant online commerce and social networks, and scant privacy protections. The country is awash in data, the lifeblood of deep learning systems. It has no debates over big data and civil liberties to slow its AI progress as compared with the US or the rest of the developed nations.

Apart from that, China’s military is funding the development of new AI-driven capabilities in battlefield decision-making and autonomous weaponry. The boundaries between civilian and military research and development tend to become blurred in the case of China.

When Chinese investors, entrepreneurs and government officials all focus on one industry, they can truly shake the world. Indeed, China is ramping up AI investment, research and entrepreneurship on a historic scale. Chinese implementation and monetization and valuation of the companies in this field have already started to eclipse the US, and probably will go even further ahead unless there is a big breakthrough in the US that might change the equation.

But the key issue in front of humanity is not whether the US is ahead, or China is ahead. The real issue is that AI will create disruption to the existing world order that is currently unimaginable. It will provide lots of opportunities as well as well as lots of challenges. The replacement of jobs, privacy, security and social structure will require potential stakeholders to work together to find workable solutions. The areas of confrontation will be narrow and those of cooperation should be high. If we don’t find common ground or good solutions to these issues, then they could lead to a disaster of a scale that humanity has never imagined.