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Friday, December 21, 2018

Axios Future
By Steve LeVine ·Dec 21, 2018
Welcome back to Future. Thanks for subscribing.
Situational awareness: Minnesota prosecutors today declined to file charges against Richard Liu, CEO of JD.com, in the alleged rape of a University of Minnesota student in September.
This is the last edition of Future until Monday, Jan. 7. Have a safe and restful holiday. We look forward to seeing you again in 2019.
Consider inviting your friends and colleagues to sign up. And if you have any tips or thoughts on what we can do better, just hit reply to this email or message me at steve@axios.com. Email my colleagues Kaveh Waddell at kaveh@axios.com and Erica Pandey at erica@axios.com.
Okay, let's start with ...
 
 
1 big thing: The China blind spot
Illustration of a blurry Chinese flag
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
 
The West has a blind spot when it comes to China’s technological advances.
  • Axios' Kaveh Waddell writes: Again and again, the West has shown that it misunderstands China's true competence in the technologies of the future — artificial intelligence, quantum science, robotics, and more.
  • Alternatively under- and over-estimating China's progress, the U.S. and Europe are left simply unmoored in terms of tracking their primary geopolitical competition.
What it looks like: Whiplash.
  • In an utterly unexpected announcement last month, a Chinese scientist said he had produced a genetically edited embryo.
  • In recent years, there has been a headline-grabbing explosion of AI papers from Chinese researchers, followed by analyses suggesting that Chinese research lags significantly behindAmerican and European work when accounting for impact.
  • Over the last year, major advances have been announced by Chinese companies that most in the West have never heard of — like MiningLamp, a big data company that’s attracted name investors.
The backdrop: Several factors contribute to the trans-Pacific information gap. Unlike military hardware that can be publicly demonstrated, virtual technology like AI and quantum computing is difficult to scrutinize, especially because they are, at their core, difficult to understand.
  • The Chinese government deliberately sows confusion in official announcements and state-controlled media. The aim is sometimes to send rivals scrambling toward a dead end, says Elsa Kania, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
  • A narrow Western focus on major cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen — leaves out major universities and data-annotation outfits that also contribute to China’s AI rise, says Jeffrey Ding, of Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute.
Combined, these factors and others have often left the West in the dark. MiningLamp, for example, is barely mentioned in English literature but is well known in China, says Joy Ma, a researcher at the University of Chicago's Paulson Institute. As a result, U.S. and European companies and officials don't know how to respond appropriately.
  • Now, the West has swung from discounting Chinese innovation to panicking, depicting an unstoppable tech juggernaut. Against this framing, the U.S. is considering ways to preserve the American tech advantage, like imposing export controls. But sanctions can be overkill, too.
  • The reality is somewhere in the middle, says Kania.
Axios science editor Andrew Freedman writes: Policy decisions made now will determine whether the U.S. successfully competes with China for the lead in scientific and engineering research, or squanders it through a mix of underfunding and poorly crafted legislation.
  • It's conceivable that China, not the U.S., will be the next country to land a human on the Moon, while also rivaling the U.S. and the E.U. in weather prediction in as little as a decade from now — a field with many military applications.

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