WASHINGTON — China is rapidly developing and deploying technologies powered by artificial intelligence at a pace that will see the country soon eclipse the United States as the world’s leader in the technology.

But how is China progressing so quickly?

Speaking during a press briefing at the Center for a New American Security, announcing the organization’s new AI and national security Task Force, SparkCognition CEO Amir Husain explained that the pace of technological development is influenced by doctrine and governance, but also funding.

“The Chinese are spending $150 billion [on AI] by 2030... hopefully we will spend more than the $1.2 billion we spend now,” Mr. Husain said.

While adding a few zeros on the end of the Defense Department’s AI budget would help spur development, fundamental differences in how China and the U.S. approach civil liberties also restricts how quickly America can create advanced AI systems.

“The issue is... China is more liberal in allowing large scale experiments,“ Husain added. “The level of data you can gather when you’ve got 5 million cameras deployed and the kinds of objects and situations you see will allow you to build better training systems... They will have a leg up on.”

In addition to lacking communication and organization between government and industry, Husain bemoaned long five to seven year acquisition timelines and the difficulty for young, innovative AI companies to work with the Defense Department.

“I live in a world where there is a revolution every 60 days. So seven years is 40 generations,” he said. “You buy tanks in one way, and you’ve got to buy algorithms in a different way” he explained.

Former deputy secretary of defense Robert Work noted China’s centralized government and civil-military fusion across the defense industry also makes it easier for China to ”really drive the fusion at the national level.”

“As a democracy, I don’t ever imagine something like that,” Work said. “The United States just needs to think through how we do this as a nation.”

So how can the U.S. keep pace with China?

Work has previously spoken about establishing an AI Center of Excellence, but also believes more government leadership is needed from the top.

“To have a national response you have to have a national push from above,” he said. “In my view it must start from the White House.”

The former deputy secretary also noted the importance of congressional support, citing the influence of Lyndon Johnson in Congress during the space race.

“We are going to need some help from Congress,” Work said. “Either a caucus or someone who takes this as a leadership position.”

Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.

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