US needs national strategy to combat China's appetite for AI

18 June 2018 2 min. read

Consulting firm and leading defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton has warned that the US may fall behind China in the race to develop game-changing artificial intelligence. A national strategy is needed, said Booz Allen CEO Horacio Rozanski, if the country is to stay a step ahead of rising competition.

With its abundance of government defense contracts, Booz Allen is one of the few consulting firms in a position to comment on the importance of public/private sector coordination. Headquartered in McLean, Virginia, the firm’s management and digital consulting expertise has been frequently called on by the DoD, NSA and Homeland Security.

CEO Horacio Rozanski has recently spoken out on the threat posed by China to US national defense. Born in Argentina, Rozanski joined Booz Allen in 1992 and helped steer the firm’s separation of its commercial and government services practices in 2008 before being appointed CEO in 2015.

Of particular concern to Rozanski is the gargantuan efforts being made by the Chinese government to develop groundbreaking AI technology that could give the world’s second-largest economy the upper hand in critical areas spanning defense, cybersecurity, financial services, and logistics.

US needs national strategy to combat China's appetite for AI

Although US military might currently dwarves Chinese capabilities, the same cannot be said for AI, he warned. “It’s not the 50-year edge that we have in building aircraft’s now a much closer race, without a doubt.”

“The investments are being driven at this point by the strategies of the different parts of the government, as opposed to collective strategy,” he said. “I’m not sure that there’s a coordinated approach between the private sector and the public sector, and those are the things that, I think, are going to be necessary.”

In the summer of 2017 Beijing unveiled a new policy document outlining its plans to become the undisputed world champion of AI by 2030. Chinese private equity firms are contributing 48% of global funding for AI-exploring startups. China is already ahead of the US when it comes to AI-related patents.

China also has little difficulty launching a coordinated assault on humanity’s AI innocence. The country’s own tech giants – among them Baidu – are investing heavily in research, even within US borders at Silicon Valley sites. At a public policy level, AI is making inroads into education, used both to educate students, and as a mandatory subject in the country’s millions of classrooms.

If there is a US response to China’s growing AI capabilities, then Booz Allen will likely have a role to play. In early 2018 the firm launched the Data Science Bowl – a global competition designed to scout out top machine learning design talent. Booz Allen continues to work closely with federal government on AI, machine learning, and robotics – and has published numerous white papers on the subjects.