Over the last couple of years, it has become increasingly clear that many democratic governments have been taking a closer look at artificial intelligence (AI), both from a policy standpoint and as something to help their economies of the future. I specify democratic because of two reasons. First, it’s clear that China recognized both the economic power and the population control capabilities of AI much earlier. Democracies have many open issues and can move more slowly, and policy is discussed more widely by the population. Two pieces of news this week have shown the increasing focus on Artificial intelligence in the United States and the European Union (EU).
The Brookings Institution has increased its focus on AI, even publishing an interesting book I reviewed earlier this year. On December 1, Brookings held a webinar on the future of tech antitrust in the Biden administration. While the subject doesn’t directly relate to AI, there are clear implications. Two of the first companies to operationalize AI were Amazon and Google, both targets for potential antitrust action. To understand how that could impact the industry, many people are talking about the failed actions against Microsoft a few decades ago. I go further back. People tend to forget that IBM was broken up because it controlled the software and the hardware in the mainframe days. Splitting the groups is what allowed the creation of the independent software vendor (ISV), which is today’s software industry.
Artificial intelligence is going to have a massive impact on our lives. Right now there are many small players, but acquisitions will happen as that has always been a regular exit strategy. The question is when acquisitions reach a level of restraint of trade or monopolistic anti-competition. One of the key points in the webinar was that technology is being recognized as different. This isn’t the days of Shell Oil. The internet is wider, and the big five of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft can all have potentially monopolistic practices in one area while being behind the others in different areas. Understanding the modern business landscape is going to be difficult and will take time.
While the webinar came to the same conclusion, I had going it, that it was too early to make any realistic predictions about what the new Biden administration will do, it is clear that there will be a fresh look taken at antitrust and that will have a potential impact on AI.
On the other side of the pond, the EU continues to increase its focus on AI as a future economic driver. A press release announced yet another AI investment initiative. Two EU groups, the European Investment Bank Group (EIB Group) stated that it has created an instrument to co-invest up to €150 million alongside the European Investment Fund (EIF) in AI, blockchain, IoT and related advanced technologies.
That investment isn’t the first and won’t be the last. The EU will continue to increase its support of new technologies, and that’s a good thing. The US is still drifting a bit but, going back to the Biden administration, I expect an increasing level of funding to help younger companies. Yes, there is already private investment, but governments help focus on issue key to a growing economy and need to be involved. First, because that helps drive technology innovations that are more focused on expected needs. Second, because sometimes driving new technology has wider impact than expected, as how the DARPA investment in creating a network to reach a few universities drove the creation of the infrastructure that drives how you’re now reading my writing.
Third, let’s circle back to the first paragraph. Non-democracies know the power of technology to help their economies, to compete in international politics, and to control their people so the leaders retain power. China is heavily investing in AI. Based on the last four years of international politics, it’s also gained an advantage in spreading its business and political footprint into emerging markets. It is critical that the EU, the US, and other nations work on technologies that can help support, improve and spread the types of societies and economies that our own societies feel present the best for both citizens and business. Artificial intelligence is going to have enormous impact on the world, and governments will be competing to define and control that impact.