Thursday 5 December 2019


Part 5: The new world order

How artificial intelligence could radically reshape geopolitics

By Ella Hollowood and Alex Clark


The world is hurtling towards a tech future that will see our societies radically reshaped by artificial intelligence. From smart personal assistants to algorithms that can predict catastrophic epidemics, AI has the potential to transform everything about our lives.

To better understand where we are heading, Tortoise Intelligence investigated 54 countries to find out how they are preparing, measuring their performance across key indicators, such as contributions to research, funding for startups and supercomputing powers.

What is clear from the rankings is that a reshuffling of the world order is on the way. This is a future no longer defined by GDP or geography. Instead, countries can be seen in clusters, according to their capacity to take part in a global system shaped by artificial intelligence.


Meet the power players

In this new world order, there are two main players. The USA is the clear winner, strides ahead of everyone else. Next is China, following a way behind – but quickly catching up.

The US dominance is in part thanks to the monumental levels of private investment in AI companies:

But will it last? Private investment does not paint the full picture. China has already earmarked future government investments one-and-a-half times greater than every other country in the world – combined.

With this staggering scale of government backing and a healthy R&D pipeline, China is well-placed to overtake the US by 2030.


Meet the traditional champions

The UK, Canada, Germany and France are established economies doing well on AI – but they’re not in the same league as the new power players.

Their key strengths are in research and in growing talent, thanks to a legacy of world-leading education systems and good infrastructure. But they’re some way away from the top spots.


Meet the rising stars

These are a diverse group of fast-moving and high-intensity economies that include Singapore, Israel, Ireland and Finland. They lack the scale of larger nations, but often outperform the power players and traditional champions in the intensity of their AI development – whether that’s through large average investments per AI company, or consistently producing valuable research.

Waking up

The nations waking up to artificial intelligence are a mix of high and middle-income economies. They lack the breadth of the power players and traditional champions, and the intensity of the rising stars, but do well in specific areas.

Take, for example, the UAE. It’s ranked 27th overall, but it is the only country in the world to have both drafted a national strategy and appointed an AI minister.

India, which ranked 18th overall, has a large and active online population keen to up-skill. They’re visiting MOOC websites (Massive Open Online Courses) in high numbers – higher than the USA, for example.

India’s budding coders are also asking almost as many questions as the Americans on Stack Overflow, a question-and-answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

Finally, we see the nascent economies in the AI future: Kenya, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Egypt and Pakistan. To unlock the potential of AI, the basics need to be in place first.


Further reading

Explore the results for all 54 countries on the Global AI Index Data Explorer.