Attitudes between America and China have always been subtly adversarial, but tensions have exploded over the last year with the failed phases of the trade deal, rhetoric and misinformation about the coronavirus’ origins, and embassy closings in each other’s country, an unprecedented event. 

A focus on technology over weapons

An entrepreneur using his phone at an airport
An entrepreneur using his phone at an airport

Experts say that China and America are in a new Cold War, but instead of stockpiling nuclear weapons, the two largest economies in the world are rapidly upgrading their technology in the areas of 5G and artificial intelligence.

The most recent battle in this modern Cold War is still being fought between the Trump administration and the Chinese-owned technology manufacturing company Huawei, the biggest 5G manufacturer in China. Trump recently extended his executive order, which stopped U.S. based companies from doing business with Huawei and banned the use of their technology in U.S. smartphones. The ban was supported by many as Trump stoked fears that Huawei was using their tech to spy on the smartphones of U.S. citizens and steal their data for the Chinese Communist Party. In February, Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned other nations that their alliances with the U.S. could be in jeopardy if they use Huawei gear in their 5G networks. But some of our closest allies like the U.K. and Saudia Arabia still continued to work with Huawei.  

Despite the pandemic, and with U.S. bans in place, Huawei still passed Samsung to become the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. While the ban attempted to stifle China’s advancement in the area of 5G, China was able to use its existing 5G infrastructure to power robotic ultrasounds for patients and driverless vans to clean the streets of Wuhan. They have also invested more than any other country into their 5G infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Attorney General William Barr described China’s dominance of 5G telecom networks as one of the top U.S. national security and economic threats, adding that “for the first time in history, the U.S. is not leading the next technology era.” More and more experts are starting to wake up to the fact that China is winning (or in some cases, has already won) the war for global tech superiority. But while 5G infrastructure is one warzone, the new Cold War will be fought with artificial intelligence. 

The battle for artificial intelligence

A robot hand and a human hand reaching for one another
A robot hand and a human hand reaching for one another

It’s hard to fully understand China’s tech rise without understanding where President Xi Jinping’s desire came from. In 2016, Google’s leading AI application “DeepMind” defeated world champion Lee Sedol in the world’s most complex board game, Go. Xi Jinping has seen AI defeat chess players the world over, but when an AI defeated a Go player, he found the platform that would lead his nation to victory. Renowned China expert and Havard professor Graham Alison called this China’s “Sputnik moment.” Back when America saw the power of Russian aerospace with the launch of the Sputnik satellite, America rushed into action, sparking a national surge in math and science, the creation of NASA, and the first Apollo mission. 

America still leads the industry in AI with human thinking abilities, which is usually what people refer to when it comes to AI; however, as China continues to play the long game, they are gaining huge amounts of data from their 1.4 billion person population, from which they gain their biggest data collection advantage.

Data collection is essentially how an AI works. Let’s look at the YouTube algorithm, for example. Every video has certain keywords that differentiate it from other videos. When you click on videos with similar keywords, that information is sent to an AI, and it will then recommend you more videos with those same keywords. Basically, an AI is only as good as the data it is being fed, and a platter of 1.4 billion people each sending in an innumerable amount of data points means that Chinese AI is being fed well. 

China’s data advantages

Two CCTV cameras in a shop
Two CCTV cameras in a shop

While China’s population gives them an advantage in data quantity, their culture gives them advantages in data quality. According to Alison, Chinese culture values security over privacy. Reports show that the Chinese are more willing to accept a “surveillance state” if it improves public health or safety. Chinese people are as puzzled by American’s acceptance of monthly mass shootings as much as Americans are puzzled by Chinese acceptance of government surveillance that keeps them and their families safe from such horrors. This acceptance of massive public surveillance allows Chinese AI to feed off trillions of Chinese consumer data points. 

Ever since America won the first Cold War and the Soviet Union fell, America always believed that authoritarian governments are doomed to eventually fail. But the China growth story shows no signs of slowing down and even continues to grow despite attempted U.S. intervention. 

America’s power and influence on the world stage are deteriorating. Not only because President Trump is an internationally unlikable character, but because the country that used to be the symbol for democracy and prosperity has been exposed as the symbol of greed and systematic racism. America’s withdrawal from the world stage has left a vacuum of global power waiting to be filled, and we need our leaders to realize that the sleeping dragon is waking to fill it. 

What do you think about China’s advancements in 5G and AI? Let us know in the comments!

This article originally published on GREY Journal.