China’s artificial intelligence capabilities are “much closer than I thought” to catching up with the United States, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Nikkei Asia, stressing that America is not would not succeed without a “very strong partnership with our Asian friends”.
In an online interview, Schmidt, now chairman of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, said China is moving closer to the United States in some areas of AI and quantum computing – faster than his previous estimate of “a few years”.
“It’s really, really a big deal,” he said.
Schmidt resigned as executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet in 2018. He was appointed chairman of the committee in 2019 to make AI-related policy recommendations to the president and Congress of the United States.
The commission’s final report, released in March, warned that “if the United States does not act, it will likely lose its leadership position in AI to China over the next decade and become more vulnerable to a range of threats based on a host’s AI. state and non-state actors ”.
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To win the tech competition with China, the United States had to maintain its lead in “strategic” areas such as AI, semiconductors, energy, quantum computing and synthetic biology, said Schmidt.
And for that, he said, “we need a much closer relationship with Japanese researchers, Japanese universities, the Japanese government – the same for South Koreans and the same for Europeans.”
Schmidt suggested establishing a coordination group in Washington to maintain communication with the Japanese side, and a counterpart team in Tokyo, as well as similar arrangements with other partner countries.
“We would like [the] Japanese to have a coordination group within the Japanese government, which shares our perspective on what’s important and makes sure universities talk to each other, companies share information, just to facilitate collaboration, “he said. said.
Schmidt also mentioned that the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad – a group comprising the United States, Japan, India and Australia – is “a very good group that would help here if there was a structure. permanent ”. He said that “if the Quad is going to build an institution to make sure that the Quad countries talk to each other, instead of just having meetings, then I’m in favor”.
Schmidt stressed that the relationship between Washington and Beijing should not be purely competitive.
There is a “simple belief” that “China is our enemy and we should stop trading with them and stop working with them, and I hear that,” he said. But he added: “We think this is a mistake.”
Schmidt described the relationship as a “rivalry partnership,” listing healthcare and climate change as areas of potential collaboration in non-strategic areas.
“It’s a rivalry, but we are also partnering with them on a lot of things,” he said. “You have to look at each of these issues like, ‘Is it strategic or not? “”
He spoke of the rivalry when asked about the growing global backlash against tech giants including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Schmidt’s former company Google. “These rude proposals like breaking them and so on, it’s not going to be helpful because it’s going to make us back down against China,” he said.
But, he added, “I can imagine relatively small regulatory changes that would improve competition. “
When asked about semiconductor manufacturing – a major battleground in technology competition as well as in supply chains – Schmidt argued that just spending money on the problem would not be enough.
“I don’t think it’s fair to assume that we can just take $ 50 billion and be like Taiwan,” he said, adding that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world’s largest chip foundry, ” has been working on this for 20 years – it’s incredibly difficult and difficult to do.
While TSMC has said it will invest in factories in mainland China and Arizona, “for many technical reasons, these factories are unlikely to be state-of-the-art” compared to Taiwanese facilities, Schmidt said. .
“It seems to me that China is very dependent on Taiwan, but so is the United States, because the United States withdrew from this business 15 to 20 years ago,” he said, adding, “It is important that there is [fabs] in the USA . . . which are almost as good ”.
The former Google CEO also called Samsung an “underrated” player who is “extraordinarily good” in its semiconductor division.
“It’s fair to say you’ll get 5 nanometer options from Samsung and TSMC,” he said, referring to the current cutting edge in chip making.
When asked how the Biden administration has fared so far, he said: ‘What I can tell you is that the Biden administration has been so busy on Covid, and to rightly.”
“I think we won’t really know until later this year” whether the administration will adopt the commission’s recommendations.
Still, he said the commission “played a big role” in pushing the US Senate’s innovation and competition law through, which includes massive investments in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and others. cutting-edge research.
“We will clearly continue to push” the efforts to turn the bill into law, he said.
The commission is expected to be dissolved in October, after submitting its final report to the government earlier this year. “I hope to create groups that will continue this work,” Schmidt said, expressing interest in supporting these issues through a private role.
“I know many other Commissioners feel the same way: just keep sending messages,” he said.
A version of this article was first published by Nikkei Asia on July 9, 2021. © 2021 Nikkei Inc. All rights reserved.