The Race for AI

Mark Cuban, billionaire tech entrepreneur, offered some frightening and prescient advice regarding the future of technology. He argues that AI is going to “change everything, 180 degrees”, and warns that if the US falls behind, then we are “SOL”. This is a sentiment echoed by Russian president Vladimir Putin, “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind…whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” In July, China released a comprehensive global strategy designed to make the country the “front runner and innovation center in AI”. The United States, Russia and China are all aware of the game changing effects AI will have upon the world. Its military, economic and civic promise are almost endless. The superpower to possess the greatest hold on AI will hold the keys to global power. It is just that simple.

But how will AI change everything? It is a foreign concept that years ago seemed like a science fiction pipe dream. Mark Cuban explains that, “It’s not a question of how it plays out over 100 years. It’s a question of how plays out over ten years, 20 years, right? Who knows what exactly? But I can tell you, at the beginning, which jobs are going to be displaced.”


Cuban sees AI as having a significant impact on real estate as well. “I can tell you that real estate is going to be displaced. I’ve talked to major companies and they’re asking me, ‘Mark, we’re going to have all this extra real estate in all these towns. What are we going to do with it? Do you have any ideas?’”

He elaborates that the increase in productivity will have a deflationary effect on the overall economy and will inevitably bring prices down. He believes that traditional factory and production jobs will be eliminated altogether and a new type of industry will emerge – jobs that involve labeling and defining different variables.

“And for the most part, now, not all the way through, you still have to label everything. Here are my variables, right? But then when you give it to it, and you say, based off these variables that are labeled as such, here’s an unlimited number of opportunities, right? And so, based off those, we’re going to create biases and weights for them all and let you come up with some conclusion. Let it give you a variety of conclusions, and then you decide. Going forward, you won’t have to label anything, right?”

Cuban continues, “Those are the types of jobs that are going to be available over the next five, ten years that didn’t exist before. Now, they’re kind of like Amazon warehouse jobs. They’re brutal, right? And it’s not anything negative towards Amazon. It’s going to be good work. And then we’re also going to have our own Tennessee Valley Authority, where they had made good public works. We’re going to have to make good jobs where we may use programs like AmeriCorps just to walk kids to school or just to read to kids. We may have to tax robots, right? Whatever it may be.”

This change in industry will not be dynamic shift but a static one not dependent on culture. It is a shift that will usher in a new era of global industry and Cuban argues that its right around the corner.

Artificial Intelligence was first founded as an academic discipline at Dartmouth college in 1956, roughly the same time that the space race was beginning to take off. In the mid-1960s, the Department of Defense was heavily funding the research of AI. Progress stalled in the 70’s as Western governments cut off exploratory research due to the perceived necessity of more pertinent projects. The private sector revived the industry in the 1980’s and it grew into a billion-dollar industry with Japan at the helm of AI. Western governments interest in AI reemerged; however, funding once again stalled in 1987 due to the collapse of the Lisp machine. It was not until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that AI reemerged for logistics and data mining.

It has now become the single most pertinent technological frontier, as it is certain to herald in the obsolescence of countless industries. Bloomberg reports that International Data Corporation (IDC), projects that sales of software for coding AI applications will increase by 40% through 2021, exceeding $8 billion, and that the growth will be even faster for these products in the cloud.

Currently, China and the United States lead in the race for AI, according to the MIT Technological Review. American companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Google are the leading companies in the development of AI. Amazon, the innovator of cloud computing, is certain to catch up to the rest of the pack. Moreover, venture capitalists have invested 113 million dollars in the development of AI focused chip startups in 2017, according to data from PitchBook, a service that tracks private company transactions. Companies understand the financial urgency of AI, but there is a lot more at stake than the tech companies’ bottom line.

Just as in the 1960’s, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the winner of the space race would take “control, total control, over the Earth for purposes of tyranny or for the service of freedom”, AI is a race in a similar vein. Foreign Policy reports that “China recently announced a multibillion-dollar AI development plan to lead the world in the technology by 2030. Russia is developing the next-generation MiG-41 fighter with AI that could control the aircraft at hypersonic speeds as fast as Mach 6. If we don’t approach this contest with the same fierce focus we found during the Cold War, we risk losing a lot more than pride”.

It is clear that AI is the doorway to the future. Companies, researchers and governments are all unanimous in their urgency of AI development and the United States should take heed to the prevailing winds. If we concede the AI race to Russia or China, then we essentially concede our mantle as the world’s leading superpower.