The US remains the dominant player in the development of AI technologies. While China is making considerable investments, the US’s structural advantages may even enable it to extend its lead.
Listed below are the key macroeconomic trends impacting the AI theme, as identified by GlobalData.
Covid-19 and AI have something of a symbiotic relationship. AI is helping with efforts to combat the virus, with the technology playing a role in everything from early detection and diagnosis of the infection to contact tracing, development of drugs and vaccines, and training of healthcare workers. For example, Mount Sinai Health System has partnered with Sana Labs to train nurses treating Covid-19 patients using AI-enabled assessments. Amazon has created distance assistants that track workers’ movements and give them feedback in real-time if they break social distancing guidelines.
According to a recent GlobalData survey, 43% of respondents stated that AI had played a significant role in helping the company survive the pandemic, with a further 34% saying it had played a minor role. Conversational platforms have become more important than ever following dramatic increases in demand for support services.
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China’s quest for AI dominance
China aims to be the world leader in AI by 2030 and is investing heavily to make this happen. The country has the most ambitious AI strategy and combines troves of data with a large talent pool, innovative companies, and plenty of capital. The BAT – Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent – work very closely with the state to develop and deploy AI. Also, they are aiding the national plan through investments in AI start-ups, while the state offers tax breaks, government contracts, and offices in AI clusters.
As a result, companies such as Cambricon, Horizon Robotics, Megvii, and SenseTime have emerged as world-class AI chip and software operations. Tech think-tank the Centre for Data Innovation concluded in a 2019 report that China now leads the world in terms of adoption, data, and quantity of research and patent filings.
US-China trade war
The US is increasingly concerned about China's progress in AI, and the Trump administration viewed policies enshrined in the Made in China 2025 plan as a security problem. In October 2019, the US added 28 Chinese companies, including facial recognition specialists Megvii and SenseTime, to a trade blacklist, which banned them from purchasing tech from US companies without government approval. This approach could yet prove to be counterproductive.
Some argue that cutting off access to US chips will simply accelerate Chinese efforts to develop alternatives. China is currently a decade behind the US and South Korea in chip technology but could meet 25% of its semiconductor needs by 2025, up from 20% in 2020.
There is a significant shortage of AI talent, and demand continues to grow faster than supply. The type of employees most in demand are data scientists, software engineers, technical leads and analysts, AI architects, and product managers, according to job vacancies tracked by GlobalData's Job Analytics tool.
A lack of skilled talent is frequently cited as the main barrier to executing AI initiatives. Most companies have partnered with universities or targeted students straight out of university to meet their AI needs, and are focusing on developing in-house expertise. For example, both Facebook and Microsoft offer free AI training platforms for employees and the general public. Also, the number of self-taught AI experts has boomed as people use self-directed options, such as those offered by Coursera and Udacity.
This is an edited extract from the Artificial Intelligence, 2020 Update – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.