Many recent reports have expressed concerns that China is outpacing the United States in the race for dominance in artificial intelligence, emphasizing the urgency to improve R&D investment strategies.1 Research and reporting on this topic tend to generalize AI, yet treating it as a singular entity with a homogenous development landscape loses sight of variability in both research and potential applications. In order to effectively compare AI production between countries, it is necessary to drill down into the subdomains of AI and identify exactly where and how nations truly lead.
One such AI subdomain is the longstanding field of computer vision, which has become controversial due to concerns over the use of increasingly powerful machine learning-based facial recognition technologies amid the influx of visual data.2 In prior research, we demonstrated China’s lead in AI-focused scientific publications over the United States,3 but China’s primary AI contribution is actually computer vision. In fact, for the top 1 percent of AI publications (by citation), the United States leads in publication counts once computer vision-related research is removed from the AI research corpus.
In this brief, we build on our previous findings to better understand the indicated Chinese emphasis on computer vision research and investigate how the intellectual property portfolios of the United States and China compare. Patent data provides a view into the perceived economic value of research, building a more comprehensive picture of the AI landscape. By narrowing the focus on specific areas of competition, policymakers can prioritize interventions and investments.
Patent Landscape for Computer Vision: United States and ChinaDownload Full Report
- James Vincent, “China is about to overtake America in AI research,” The Verge, March 14, 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/14/18265230/china-is-about-to-overtake- america-in-ai-research; Tom Simonite, “China Is Catching Up to the US in AI Research— Fast,” Wired, March 13, 2019, https://www.wired.com/story/china-catching-up-us-in-ai- research/; Sarah O’Meara, “Will China Overtake the U.S. in Artificial Intelligence Research?” Wired, August 24, 2019, https://www.wired.com/story/china-catching-up-us- in-ai-research/.
- Dominic Delmolino, “How Computer Vision Will Help Government See Further,” Accenture, May 15, 2019, https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/us-federal- government/computer-vision.
- Dewey Murdick, James Dunham, and Jennifer Melot, “AI Definitions Affect Policymaking” (Center for Security and Emerging Technology, June 2, 2020), https://cset.georgetown.edu/research/ai-definitions-affect-policymaking/.