In One Key A.I. Metric, China Pulls Ahead of the U.S.: Talent

When it comes to the artificial intelligence that powers chatbots like ChatGPT, China lags behind the United States. But when it comes to producing the scientists behind a new generation of humanoid technologies, China is pulling ahead.

New research shows that China has by some metrics eclipsed the United States as the biggest producer of A.I. talent, with the country generating almost half the world’s top A.I. researchers. By contrast, about 18 percent come from U.S. undergraduate institutions, according to the study, from MacroPolo, a think tank run by the Paulson Institute, which promotes constructive ties between the United States and China.

The findings show a jump for China, which produced about one-third of the world’s top talent three years earlier. The United States, by contrast, remained mostly the same. The research is based on the backgrounds of researchers whose papers were published at 2022’s Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems. NeurIPS, as it is known, is focused on advances in neural networks, which have anchored recent developments in generative A.I.

The talent imbalance has been building for the better part of a decade. During much of the 2010s, the United States benefited as large numbers of China’s top minds moved to American universities to complete doctoral degrees. A majority of them stayed in the United States. But the research shows that trend has also begun to turn, with growing numbers of Chinese researchers staying in China.

What happens in the next few years could be critical as China and the United States jockey for primacy in A.I. — a technology that can potentially increase productivity, strengthen industries and drive innovation — turning the researchers into one of the most geopolitically important groups in the world.

Generative A.I. has captured the tech industry in Silicon Valley and in China, causing a frenzy in funding and investment. The boom has been led by U.S. tech giants such as Google and start-ups like OpenAI. That could attract China’s researchers, though rising tensions between Beijing and Washington could also deter some, experts said.

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