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Despite Being an Early Adopter of AI, the US is Falling Behind

The race for Artificial Intelligence (AI) readiness is on, and a new study by the ABB Group shows the US are lagging surprisingly far behind other developed nations, despite this being the birthplace of AI. The study evaluates 25 countries based on 3 categories: Innovation Environment, Education Policies and Labour Market Policies, to determine who is best prepared for an AI-driven future.

In this article, we will have a closer look at AI, including the opportunities it provides, why the US is falling behind, and how the top 10 countries are preparing for an imminent AI-focused future.



The Opportunities AI Brings

ABB Group’s report showed that many countries are just getting to grips with the opportunities and challenges that AI and robotics brings, as well as its future potential.

AI will provide opportunities to generate new insights, and enhance the performance of existing technological capabilities to do amazing things.

We are already beginning to benefit from these capabilities. AI has been used to more precisely identify and diagnose cancer, treat mental health issues, help achieve healthier crop yields, conserve energy and enhance supply chain efficiency. For being such a young technology still in its infancy stage, these are some remarkable accomplishments.


Who Are The Key Players in AI-Readiness?

Recent studies have found that a handful of countries are currently leading on when it comes to AI technology. At the time of writing, the top 10 countries who are making the most effort to prepare their workforce's are:

South Korea

You might not be surprised to find that countries such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan and are to be found at the top of this list. And we especially find South Korea, Germany and Singapore to be the world leaders in preparing for a smooth integration of AI into their policies. These countries recognised AI as a means to economic growth and social progress a long time ago, and they are now busy harvesting the benefits.

Meanwhile, the US disbanded its AI taskforce in 2016 and, without a strategy in place, have fallen far behind. The US scored well for its Innovative Environment, however it’s underperformance in Labour Market and Education policies caused it to take a significant dip in the top 10.


Education Systems and Policies

A main factor in the US’ low ranking has been attributed to their lack of progression in developing curricula that best prepares the next generations’ workforce. America still adopts a traditional approach to teaching, with a central focus on rote memory and theoretical knowledge.

Contrasting this approach, several of the top players in the ABB Report, especially Japan, South Korea, and Singapore have adapted their school curriculum for emerging technologies. They have aligned their curriculums with AI, focus on teaching in-demand skills and prioritise STEM from early on in a child’s education.

In Japan and China, students are taking classes in computer science and exploring robotics; meanwhile in the US, students are memorising rock formation and learning how to touch-type.



Is a College Degree Still Relevant?

The US instil the belief that success is attained exclusively through a university degree. Unsurprisingly so, the US Higher Education industry spends more of its GDP on higher education than any other country.

This notion is being rejected by some of the best prepared countries, as noted by Susan Lund, a labour economist at global consulting firm McKinsey:

“Not everyone needs a four-year college degree. We could do a lot to build more career pathways.”

Germany, the 2nd top in readiness, is leading the way in this strategy: providing students with opportunities to complete apprenticeships straight out of high school. This gives students skill-credentialing opportunities that majorly benefit them when applying for entry-levels jobs.

The UK, on the other hand, have taken a different approach and have recently launched university courses that focus on AI, with funding available on courses for doctoral students at the top universities. These offer a balance between knowledge and skill-based learning, better equipping the labour market with the necessary skills than a general degree in Computer Science would.


Adaptability and Lifelong Learning is Key

As with all fast-progressing technology, adaptability is key to keep up with rapidly moving advancements. AI technology is highly intelligent and able to learn, meaning that for countries wanting to take a lead on AI, they will need to be learning at an incredible rate alongside AI.

To do this, governments will need to implement lifelong learning and constant retraining policies in addition to adapting structures and communication flows to increase engagement between government, industry, educational specialists and other stakeholders.

The ABB report shows that regardless of if policymakers are ready or not, businesses are frantically integrating AI and robotics into their operations. As the adoption of AI accelerates in coming years, it will become very clear and urgent that more coordination between AI education and training is imperative to exploit the benefits of AI.


Leadership is Important, but Who’s Leading Who?

Andrew NG, the former head of AI in China states: “whenever there is technological disruption, leadership matters”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also addresses the importance for leadership in AI, and the need to not shy away from this new technology:

“Artificial Intelligence is the future… for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world”.

Understanding AI, what it is, what it can do, and the benefits it can bring is essential for government administrators and policymakers. With AI technology rapidly changing and becoming increasingly complex, experts need to be brought in to educate and allow policymakers to make fast and informed decisions.

In the US, there is an alarming lack of technical expertise – no leader to advise the president. That is, until now (kind of) … Last week Trump appointed himself as the White House’s top AI advisor, despite being completely unqualified to do so. But surely there is a committee in place to back Trump up and provide oversight? Not so much, given the leading positions within the committee remain vacant.

So, there is now a “leader” in place, but without any technical expertise, the question is who’s leading who? Given this, the US is unlikely to make any developments in AI readiness to bolster their position in the Top 10.

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