For the last couple of decades, the question has raged as to who would win the media wars: content providers or media platforms that can beam everyone’s content? The battle has, over time, resulted in the belief that one needs both.
Platforms like Netflix have moved into content provision while content providers continue to acquire or merge with platform companies. Of those that have remained more ‘pure’, platforms seem to be outgunning content (Facebook, Google).
The same debate is now starting in AI. What will drive leadership in AI – access to data or superiority in AI technology? The answer is not yet clear. But what is clear is that the three major blocs are taking different approaches.
The EU has, through its cack-handed and excessive approach to GDPR, decided that privacy should trump data access. Combine this with the fact that (i) Europe is well behind in AI technology (ii) it has no clear pathway to encouraging new AI innovation companies that do not end up being acquired by US or Chinese funders, and (iii) the burden of GDPR falls disproportionately on smaller, innovative companies, and it seems likely that it will be left in the dust in the AI race.
The US is placing its bets on an ability to maintain leadership in AI technology. It has not yet taken a stance on privacy and internet regulation. The anti-regulation lobby is strong. However, seeing as most US companies also operate in Europe, its supine stance on privacy and internet regulation risks two possible outcomes.
Either it will end up being dragged along by regulation spawned in Europe as companies decide that it’s simply easier to apply one common standard. Or some US companies will decide to give up on the EU market because GDPR is simply too much trouble. Both those outcomes are already happening.
China is betting on the dual approach. Its authoritarian approach to data will ensure that it has access to huge centralised databases that include vast amounts of information on each and every one of its citizens. It is also betting that, through its approach to Western technology acquisition (some would call it stealing), it can keep up and maybe overtake Western technological advances in AI.
The battle has only just started. None of us know which factors will be decisive to the outcome. But, unlike the media battle on content vs platforms, expect this battle to be bloody and to have significant implications for international trade and geo-political relations. This is far from being simply a battle for profits.