China overtakes US in AI research

TOKYO — China is overtaking the U.S. in artificial intelligence research, setting off alarm bells on the other side of the Pacific as the world’s two largest economies jockey for AI supremacy.

In 2020, China topped the U.S. for the first time in terms of the number of times an academic article on AI is cited by others, a measure of the quality of a study. Until recently, the U.S. had been far ahead of other countries in AI research.

One reason China is coming on strong in AI is the ample data it generates. By 2030, an estimated 8 billion devices in China will be connected via the Internet of Things — a vast network of physical objects linked via the internet. These devices, mounted on cars, infrastructure, robots and other instruments, generate a huge amount of data.

China views AI as a way to make up for labor shortages in anticipation of a shrinking population, said Weilin Zhao, a senior researcher at Itochu Research Institute.

AI is used in a range of industries and greatly affects a nation’s competitiveness and security. The U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, headed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, warned in a report in March that the U.S. may lose the initiative in AI to China. As the U.S. responds to this challenge, bilateral competition in AI has heated up — with global implications.

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