By Noah Vehafric
America’s military and economic dominance in the 21st century depends on its ability to lead in the technologies of artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, 5G, semiconductor manufacturing, and related fields like cybersecurity, privacy, and standards-setting. Unfortunately, the outlook is not so clear. There is a tech war happening between the U.S. and China, and it’s vital to the free world that America wins.
China has pursued an aggressive strategy to develop its technology sector. China has made technological development a key issue in their latest 5-year plan. President Xi has made it very clear that he wants China to be the leader in AI. China has stolen billions of records from Americans in numerous data breaches and its price dumping of communications and surveillance equipment allows it to harvest data in not only the U.S. but around the world. It's estimated that China has been stealing half a trillion dollars worth of American intellectual property per year. Recently, some experts predict China is cozying up to the Taliban to exploit Afghanistan's rare-earth mineral deposits – key elements used as technological components.
AI, quantum computing, and 5G are technologies that will decide who will become the economic and military leaders of the globe. AI and quantum computing is being used in weapons development, agricultural management, drug discovery, processing of intangibly large sums of data, and other innovations not yet imagined. 5G has the speeds and bandwidth to deliver that computing power wirelessly across the country.
We aren’t completely in the dark, however. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have taken steps to increase investment in AI and quantum computing. The new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is up and running, and the U.S. semiconductor export ban to China appears to be working. This does not mean we can keep our guard down though. Recently, the Chief Software Officer for the Air Force quit after being discouraged by what he calls a “kindergarten level” of cybersecurity compared to China. China’s investment in AI still overshadows that of the U.S. and unsecure communication equipment made by China is still rampant throughout U.S. networks.
What can the U.S. do to hedge against China’s technological aggression? First and foremost, Congress needs to create a federal privacy standard that gives American companies the guidance it needs to protect Americans' data and plug the hole that China uses to harvest data and siphon intellectual property. Congress also needs to strengthen our agencies to counter Chinese aggression. It can do this by passing the Secure Equipment Act to give the Federal Communications Commission the authority it needs to revoke equipment authorization for unsecure equipment and providers. It needs to mandate that the U.S.–China Economic Security Review Commission have dedicated technology analysts. Loopholes in the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) review process that allows Chinese companies to influence U.S. companies through venture capital investments into emerging technologies needs to be closed. Finally, we need a unified export control policy that keeps China locked out of obtaining key components (such as semiconductors) that it needs to produce equipment, strangling their supply chain and relegating them to outdated alternatives.
This is only a drop in the bucket to what needs to be done in order to further protect Americans from the threat of China. We cannot let an authoritarian model of governance pave the way for how this technology is used. Artificial intelligence and quantum computing should improve the human condition, not be used as a tool of state surveillance, oppression, and control. A whole-government strategy is needed to counter China’s aggression.