Inside the Global AI Arms Race

AI is on the verge of changing our world and countries around the world are rushing to develop domestic industries to capture their piece of the pie.  While the US remains the global leader, a number of countries are stepping up with significant government support in an effort to stake their claims in this emerging industry.  Here is how the world's AI leaders are stepping up their game to compete.

China 🇨🇳

Beijing's Zhongguancun Science Park (Z-Park)

Beijing's Zhongguancun Science Park (Z-Park)

The US may be the currently the leader in AI, but China is throwing its considerable resources at taking that crown.  In 2017, it announced a plan to become the world’s leading AI innovation center by 2030, with a goal of creating a domestic industry worth 1 trillion yuan (nearly USD $150 billion).  Subsequent details have included a USD $2.1 billion investment for an AI industrial park in Beijing and the launch of a 5-year AI talent training program by the Ministry of Education.

At a time when public budgets in the US are being cut, China is investing billions into AI research, outspending the US a thousand to one by some estimates.  It’s already producing the most AI research papers in the world, despite lagging behind the US in the number of AI researchers, and in 2017, Chinese companies claimed the largest share of AI investment globally (48 percent of the world’s total AI startup funding, compared to 38 percent for the US).

    Canada 🇨🇦

    The Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Toronto, Canada

    The Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Toronto, Canada

    The birthplace of neural networks boasts the world’s third largest AI talent pool and is working hard to secure its place as a global leader in AI.  In the past two years, Canada has earmarked billions of dollars to a dizzying array of programs supporting AI innovation.  In 2017, the Canadian government announced a C $950 million (USD $730 million) program to create five innovation “superclusters” across the country, including a Montreal-based center focused on artificial intelligence and robotics.  That same year, it launched the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Toronto, with C $170 million (USD $125 million) in funding and led by the Godfather of Deep Learning, Geoffrey Hinton.

    Global tech giants are taking notice, with Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others opening AI-focused research centers in the Great White North. In 2017, Canada’s largest city, Toronto, created more tech jobs than the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington D.C. combined and Montreal-based Element AI secured $102m in Series A funding, the largest such funding for an AI company to-date.

    United Kingdom 🇬🇧

    Already a leader in AI, the UK announced an AI “Sector Deal” in April 2018, which provides up to £1 billion in public and private investment in AI-related companies and programs, including:

    • £300 million in new private sector investment
    • Funding for AI-related education, including training 8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 government-funded AI PhDs by 2025 and a commitment to develop a prestigious global Turing Fellowship program to attract and retain AI research talent
    • The establishment of a new Office for Artificial Intelligence with a mandate to "create and deliver the UK’s AI strategy"
    • Doubling of the number of visas available for foreign nationals to work in UK jobs in science and digital technology

    Europe 🇪🇺

    That same week, the European Commission unveiled a €20 billion strategy to increase investments in AI research and development across Europe as part of its Horizon 2020 program, including:

    • €1.5 billion in investment from the Commission itself between 2018 and 2020
    • €2.5 billion of additional funding triggered from existing public-private partnerships
    • Proposed legislation to open up more public sector data for re-use, such as the data held by transport authorities and utilities

    (The UK will be sidelined from the EU's AI program as a result of Brexit, under which it will leave the EU in 2019.)

    France 🇫🇷

    French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the Artificial Intelligence for Humanity conference in Paris

    French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the Artificial Intelligence for Humanity conference in Paris

    Within the EU, France has announced an additional €1.5 billion to be invested in AI by 2022 (on top of a previously-announced €5 billion a year in tax credits and other incentives for research and development) as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s drive to make France more business-friendly and help establish Paris as a global startup hub.  The plan calls for the opening up of data collected by state-owned organizations such as France’s centralized healthcare system.

    United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪

    Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, UAE's Minister for Artificial Intelligence

    Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, UAE's Minister for Artificial Intelligence

    In 2017, the UAE became the first country in the world to appoint a Minister for Artificial Intelligence.  It's AI strategy covers development and application in nine sectors and aims to make the UAE a leader in AI research, development, and innovation.  While the UAE isn't necessarily known for being at the forefront of technology, it has a proven track record at rapid modernization and significant resources that it can bring to bear.  The country has already devoted billions of dollars towards AI, including the AED 1 billion (USD $270 million) Dubai Future Endowment Fund.  The biggest challenge facing the UAE is a lack of skilled AI workers.