Welcome to AI nationalism: the future is here and now!

Key Points:

  • Sovereigns worldwide are competing to control their own artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
  • A number of governments, including the US and China, are investing heavily in AI development.
  • France, India, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are also pledging to support AI research and development.
  • The approaches to AI development vary, with some countries favoring state-led initiatives and others relying on private sector innovation.

Welcome to the era of AI nationalism. Governments all over the world are vying to control their own technological destinies. This growing trend is most evident in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), where countries are seeking to become AI national champions. Sovereigns worldwide are competing to control their own AI technologies, with countries such as the US and China leading the way in terms of investment.

In the past year, several countries, including the US, China, France, India, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, have pledged to invest billions of dollars into AI research and development. These investments will go towards purchases of graphics-processing units (GPUs) and factories to manufacture such chips, as well as support for AI firms. The level of state involvement varies between countries, with some relying on private sector innovation while others have state-led initiatives in place.

The US, for example, has a vibrant private sector that is innovating in the field of AI without direct support from the government. Instead, the federal government has focused on increasing domestic chipmaking capacity in order to reduce dependence on foreign manufacturers. The US government has also enacted export controls to ban the sale of cutting-edge AI technology to countries such as China and Russia. Meanwhile, China has been investing heavily in AI to reduce its reliance on Western technology.

In Europe, countries such as France, Germany, and the UK are also investing in AI development and domestic chipmaking. France and Germany have soured on the EU’s AI Act, which may undermine their domestic AI firms. India’s government is promoting manufacturing, including semiconductors, through incentives and is considering purchasing GPUs for AI development. These countries are also more open to making public data available to companies, unlike the US which is more reluctant to share public data.

However, each flavor of AI nationalism comes with its own risks. The US approach may antagonize both adversaries and allies, while China’s heavy regulation may offset the gains from its heavy spending. Building AI models for local languages may prove futile if foreign models continue to improve their multilingual capabilities. Handing companies sensitive data could also spark public backlash in democratic countries. Additionally, industrial policy has a poor record in spurring innovation and economic growth, especially in a fast-changing field like AI.

The era of AI nationalism is well underway, with governments around the world recognizing the strategic importance of controlling their own AI technologies. While the approaches to AI development vary, the race to become an AI superpower is shaping the future of technology and global geopolitics.