US-Taiwan scientific and technological cooperation has enabled a range of productive exchanges of ideas and insight. This history of engagement–in areas ranging from energy to space science and biomedical research–can serve as an apt foundation for US-Taiwan partnership and cooperation to expand in the realm of a critical emerging technology: artificial intelligence (AI). AI possesses tremendous strategic importance to national competitiveness, with the potential to serve as a driver of future economic growth and enabler of disruptive military capabilities.
Increasingly, AI has become a key focus of international competition. On July 20, China’s State Council issued the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (新一代人工智能發展規劃), which articulates an ambitious agenda for China to lead the world in AI. China intends to pursue a first-mover advantage to become the “premier global AI innovation center” by 2030 through building up the capability for indigenous innovation.
Taiwan, too, has prioritized the development of AI. Taiwan’s Forward Looking Infrastructure Development Program, approved in the spring of 2017, will devote USD $167 million to developing AI and promoting talent. Taiwan plans to spend USD $32.73 million each year over five years to support the construction of three to four new AI innovation centers, while seeking to attract domestic and international talent. In April, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology announced plans to establish the Taiwan AI Labs later this year. This new research institute will seek to integrate academic, governmental, and private sector expertise and resources, with funding from local enterprises and investors.
Through these initiatives, Taiwan may have the opportunity to leverage its existing strengths and find new niches in AI. As Minister of Science and Technology Liang-Gee Chen highlighted, “The importance of AI for Taiwan is apparent through its semiconductor companies. Right now, they have an opportunity to enter the sphere of AI, and Taiwan needs to grab onto this opportunity.” In addition, Taiwan has started to use AI for medical applications, and there will be a variety of future opportunities to enhance its competitiveness across a variety of sectors through AI. Of note, Taiwanese AI start-up Appier has been highly successful in the employment of AI to enable advertisers to improve their campaign strategies, and now looks to expand in Asia.
Looking to the coming AI revolution, Taiwan must focus on attracting and educating human capital and talent. Despite Taiwan’s traditional role within the global high-tech supply chain, it has seemingly started to lag behind in software, including apps and AI, reflecting salaries that are inadequate to attract top talent. Taiwan must focus on competing to attract and cultivate AI talent, while creating an ecosystem to enable opportunities for new start-ups. The initiative of Taiwan’s private sector might also play also support efforts to attract and develop talent, such as Appier’s sponsorship of scholarships for Taiwanese university students. In the long term, Taiwan should also consider adapting its educational system to prepare for a future in which current employment patterns will be radically disrupted by AI.
To take advantage of the economic opportunities associated with AI, Taiwan must build upon the programs announced to date to create a solid foundation for future advances in AI. Lee Kai-Fu (李開復), head of Sinovation Ventures and a leading AI expert, has said that Taiwanese regulations and market are currently lacking the appropriate prerequisites for AI development, including the availability of big data, funding, and an adequate market. Certainly, Appier’s success demonstrates that Taiwanese AI start-ups can be highly competitive. However, the Taiwanese government should pursue further policies to improve these underlying conditions, such as encouraging data sharing, supporting investment, and exploring market opportunities.
In this context, Taiwan can continue to leverage relative strengths in the underlying chips and electronics integral to the development of AI, exploring further opportunities for investments, partnerships, and exchange with the US. For instance, this May, NVIDIA, a leading US manufacturer of the Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) which are used to train machine learning algorithms, unveiled a partnership with Taiwanese leading original design manufacturers (ODM) Foxconn, Inventec, Quanta, and Wistron in order to “more rapidly meet the demands for AI cloud computing.” This summer, Foxconn announced plans to establish a multibillion-dollar research and development plant in Michigan focused on self-driving cars and AI.
Looking forward, the US and Taiwan could be well positioned to build upon their respective advantages in this technological domain through the pursuit of additional opportunities for cooperation. Beyond continued partnerships between US and Taiwanese companies, the US and Taiwan might pursue greater scientific cooperation and engagement on the development of AI. Given the potential risks and disruption associated with advanced AI, the US and Taiwan could also discuss policy options to maximize the potential benefits of this technology, while ensuring that it develops in accordance with shared values.
The main point: As Taiwan prioritizes the development of AI, the US and Taiwan should continue to explore options to expand partnership and cooperation in this strategic emerging technology.