Today’s Cache | China’s closing the AI gap with U.S.

Today’s Cache dissects big themes at the intersection of technology, business and policy. Written by John Xavier, tech news lead at The Hindu

China’s national share of smart-computing power is 52%, compared to 19% in the U.S.

Recently, China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) released a white paper on the country’s computing power. According to the paper, which was translated by ChinAI, the country’s computing power reached 135 exaFlops (EFlops), an increase of 48 EFlops from last year.  One EFlop is equivalent to the computing power of roughly two million laptops.

 

China’s computing power grew 55% year-on-year, which is about 16% higher than the global average. And the paper notes that the communist country ranks second globally in terms of digital processing speed, after United States. The gap between the two countries is only 5% point.

 

So, what’s the point in all this computing speed? China is accelerating its computing power for a faster AI adoption. It is evident in the way it prioritises its resources for next generation computing. Beijing divides its AI needs into basic-, smart-, and super-computing. Between 2016 and 2020, the country dropped its basic-computing share to 57% from 95%, and increased smart-computing to 41% from 3%.

Security officers keep watch in front of an AI (Artificial Intelligence) sign at the annual Huawei Connect event in Shanghai, China. File

Security officers keep watch in front of an AI (Artificial Intelligence) sign at the annual Huawei Connect event in Shanghai, China. File
 
| Photo Credit: Reuters

 

And according to the paper, China’s national share of smart-computing power is 52%, compared to 19% in the U.S. While the statistics need to be taken with a pinch of salt, it sure does reveal something about the direction in which China is moving.

 

For more context on this, listen to what the former software chief at Pentagon, Nicolas Chaillan, told the Financial Times: The U.S. has no “fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years,” he said. “Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion.”

 

The first chief software officer for the U.S. Air Force added that Beijing is heading for global dominance with its advances in AI, machine learning and digital capabilities. Chaillan’s frustrations led him to resign in protest against the slow pace of technological transformation in the U.S. military. He noted that the failure to respond was putting the U.S. at risk.

 

Chaillan blamed sluggish innovation, the reluctance of U.S. companies such as Google to work with the state on AI and extensive ethical debates over the technology.

 

Irrespective of Chaillan’s complaints, Beijing is looking to close the gap between it and Washington. It is time for the U.S. to pick up pace.

 

(This column was emailed on October 12.)

 

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