Tuesday 3 December 2019


Countries in focus

Part 2: How the big powers and the plucky upstarts compare

By Ella Hollowood


It’s not just the big players who are making great strides in artificial intelligence. From free coding courses for Finns, to Israeli autonomous vehicles, here are some of the runners and riders in the global AI race.

Boasting the vast majority of AI’s top talent, private companies and online activity, the US dominates the global AI landscape. But its success until now has relied heavily on private growth, entrepreneurship and the San Francisco Bay Area. Without a strong government strategy, America could wobble. In early 2019, Trump’s American AI Initiative was widely panned as lacking clarity. Meanwhile China is catching up fast.

China isn’t number one for AI – yet. But President Xi is well on his way to achieving his goal of taking the top spot by 2030. Reasons to believe China will succeed? There’s not much standing in its way. Xi has put AI at the heart of China’s economic strategy. Chinese developers are working on more deep learning projects than their European counterparts, according to the code-collaborating platform GitHub. And the general population is on board: trust in AI is higher in China than anywhere else in the world.

AI is high on the UK’s agenda and is cited as the first of four “grand challenges” the country faces (alongside ageing, clean energy and transport). The country has set out one of the most detailed national AI strategies we’ve seen, with clear goals and funding for a new Office for AI. More than any other country, the UK seems preoccupied with making AI work for the public sector, particularly in health and education.

Israel’s AI strategy may be a work in progress, but the country punches well above its weight, particularly when it comes to AI product development and commercial ventures. This is in part thanks to a history of conscription. Compulsory military service has inadvertently become an incubator for AI startups, by bringing together Israelis trained in high tech cybersecurity defences and advanced weaponry.

Finland will never compete with the Chinas and the Americas on AI. But the country’s been quick to make preparations for an AI future and is visionary in its emphasis on public education and ethics around AI.

Russia is low in our index for not one, but many reasons: it hasn’t had the commercial success of other countries and ranks lower for talent and research than you might expect. But Russia may well catch up. Worried about a brain drain to the West, the government recently established a Centre for AI.