The U.S. government needs to bury the hatchet with Big Tech and harvest the innovation of firms like Google, Apple, and Facebook so that the West can better compete with Beijing’s rapid technological advancements, according to a visiting Australian senator.
Senator James Paterson, of the centre-right Liberal Party and now-shadow minister for foreign interference, said the great power struggle in the 21st Century would be marked by “technological battlegrounds” such as artificial intelligence (AI), semiconductors, 5G, quantum computing, and green tech.
He said that while politicians will “never go out of business beating up on Big Tech,” legislators should look toward the “bigger strategic picture.”
“I am asking my parliamentary colleagues to lift their eyes from much more day-to-day and conventional domestic challenges posed by Big Tech to the horizon to contemplate the systemic risks we all face if they fail,” Paterson told the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. on Sept. 13.
“An indispensable part of the strategy to win the tech race in an age of strategic competition is a new compact with Big Tech. Nothing less than the survival of liberal democracies and the free enterprise system depends on it.”
He said governments did not have the resources, scale, and appetite for risk that tech giants like Amazon or Intel had.
“Western companies at the centre of the technological revolution—Google’s parent company Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Intel and Microsoft—accounted for 70 percent of the U.S.’s total commercial R&D expenditure in 2019, spending a combined $140 billion in comparison to the Pentagon’s $109 billion investment.”
Technological Leaps and Bounds
The senator warned that while the Soviet Union could ultimately not match the U.S.’s full range of innovation, the Chinese Communist Party was a different beast.
“China has emerged as a full-spectrum competitor, with [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping declaring the battle for global technological superiority will be ‘fierce,’” he said.
“Based on current trends, it is projected that China will overtake America in five to 10 years.”
He noted China’s spending on R&D was nearly 90 percent of the United States, and also cited former Air Force Chief Software Officer Nicolas Chaillan, who said China’s victory in the field of AI was “already a done deal.”
“The dual-use applications of AI are broa, and could transform operations in financial, political, and military fields,” Paterson said. Beijing has supplied AI surveillance technology to 63 countries.
The senator also referenced research from Jonathan Dowling, a physics professor at Louisiana State University, who predicted China’s communications network could “go black” in a few years, effectively blocking U.S. intelligence from being able to monitor it.
“Quantum sensing could nullify stealth craft and radar jamming, and quantum computing could calculate highly complex equations and simulations in seconds,” he said.
China’s Baidu recently revealed it was developing its own quantum computer to compete with the United States. Thus far, Arthur Herman, a senior fellow at the conservative think tank Hudson Institute, said the U.S. was still far ahead in this field but warned of the need for vigilance.
“The fact that we have a lead doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to win,” he told “China in Focus” on NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times.
Winning Over the Global Order
Meanwhile, Paterson also said the Ukraine War demonstrated the willingness of Western tech firms to pick sides and back governments.
For example, Microsoft worked closely with the Ukrainian government to provide 24-7 intelligence sharing and also deploy defences against cyber attacks. At the same time, Google’s Project Shield has also been involved in similar initiatives.
Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services helped migrate Ukrainian government services and data onto the Cloud to preserve information in case physical servers were destroyed and Ukrainian forces used Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite to control drones to drop bombs on enemy targets.
“Many Western tech companies have fought to keep the internet accessible to the Russian people to counter Russia’s attempts ‘to raise a digital iron curtain,’” Paterson said.
“But we must have the same expectation of Big Tech when it comes to potential scenarios in the Indo-Pacific. They must pick a side. And it must be ours.”
He said, “swing states” that are happy to fence-sit between democracies and Beijing will work with partners with the cheapest and best technology. But, he warned that if China was better at meeting their needs, it would make the world a “much less safer place.”
“Despite our many legitimate frustrations with our own tech titans, we do have to choose ourselves whether we want them to prevail in their own competition with their counterparts in authoritarian countries,” he said.
“Because it will either be Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon who set the international rules of the road when it comes to technology, or it will be Tencent, ByteDance, Huawei, and HikVision.”