One Simple Chart: China’s public investment in AI

Countries around the world view AI and machine learning as critical to modernizing their economies and their militaries. Two countries seem to hold an advantage over the rest: the US and China. A 2018 book by Kai-Fu Lee described the relative strengths of these two countries which includes things like access to large consumer markets and big data, vibrant startup ecosystems, and more.

There’s a lot of interest in the level of spending in AI of Chinese companies and the Chinese government. Estimates of China’s investments in AI always seemed enormous when compared to other countries. A recent study from Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) puts the amount of spending at a level that’s comparable to the US. The authors relied on “uneven open-source data” and their analysis involved “many assumptions”. Nonetheless, the results are the first systematic analysis of public data sources that I’ve some across:

The study puts the amount of spending at a level that’s comparable to the US, even if one takes the upper bound estimate for China’s overall spending. Here are some other notes for each of the categories above:

  • Total AI R&D: the estimate is of very low certainty.
  • Defense AI R&D: the estimate is of very low certainty.
  • Civilian AI R&D (Research & Experimental Development): the estimate is of low certainty.
  • Civilian AI R&D (basic research): the estimate is of low to moderate certainty.

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