NextGenTrade®: Who Is Winning the AI Race: China, the EU or the United States?



Daniel Castro, Michael McLaughlin and Eline Chivot | Center for Data Innovation


Many nations are racing to achieve a global innovation advantage in artificial intelligence (AI) because they understand that AI is a foundational technology that can boost competitiveness, increase productivity, protect national security, and help solve societal challenges. This report compares China, the European Union, and the United States in terms of their relative standing in the AI economy by examining six categories of metrics—talent, research, development, adoption, data, and hardware.

It finds that despite China’s bold AI initiative, the United States still leads in absolute terms. China comes in second, and the European Union lags further behind. This order could change in coming years as China appears to be making more rapid progress than either the United States or the European Union. Nonetheless, when controlling for the size of the labor force in the three regions, the current U.S. lead becomes even larger, while China drops to third place, behind the European Union. This report also offers a range of policy recommendations to help each nation or region improve its AI capabilities.

Download the report.


The United States reaped tremendous economic benefits from the last wave of digital innovation, becoming home to some of the world’s most successful tech companies, such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, and Microsoft. Meanwhile, many parts of the world, including the European Union, paid an economic price staying on the sidelines. Recognizing that missing the next wave of innovation—in this case, AI—would be similarly problematic, many nations are taking action to ensure they play a large role in the next digital transformation of the global economy.

China, the European Union, and the United States are now emerging as the main competitors for global leadership in AI. Indeed, China, which achieved success in the Internet economy in part by shutting out U.S. firms, has clearly stated its ambition of achieving dominance in AI—both to increase its competitiveness in industries that have traditionally been vital to the U.S. and EU economies, and to expand its military power.[1] Moreover, the EU’s coordinated plan on AI states that its “ambition is for Europe to become the world-leading region for developing and deploying cutting-edge, ethical and secure AI.”[2] The outcome of this race to become the global leader in AI will affect the trio’s future economic output and competitiveness, as well as military superiority.


Overall, the United States currently leads in AI, with China rapidly catching up, and the European Union behind both. The United States leads in four of the six categories of metrics this report examines (talent, research, development, and hardware), China leads in two (adoption and data), and the European Union leads in none—although it is closely behind the United States in talent. Out of 100 total available points in this report’s scoring methodology, the United States leads with 44.2 points, followed by China with 32.3 and the European Union with 23.5.

The United States leads for several reasons. First, it has the most AI start-ups, with its AI start-up ecosystem having received the most private equity and venture capital funding.[3] Second, it leads in the development of both traditional semiconductors and the computer chips that power AI systems.[4] Third, while it produces fewer AI scholarly papers than the EU or China, it produces the highest-quality papers on average.[5] Finally, while the United States has less overall AI talent than the European Union, its talent is more elite.[6]

China is ahead of the European Union in AI and appears to be quickly reducing the gap between itself and the United States. It has more access to data than the European Union and the United States, which is important because many of today’s AI systems use large datasets to train their models accurately. In venture capital and private equity funding, Chinese AI start-ups received more funding than U.S. start-ups in 2017, but not in 2016 or 2018.[7] China, however, is clearly behind both the United States and the European Union in high-quality AI talent. Several European Union member states, including Italy, had more AI researchers ranked in the top 10 percent internationally than China as of 2017.[8] Nonetheless, China has made clear progress relative to the United States in most metrics, and significantly outpaces the European Union in funding and AI adoption.

The European Union has the talent to compete with the United States and China. Indeed, it has more AI researchers than its peers, and typically produces the most research as well.[9] However, there is a disconnect between the amount of AI talent in the EU and its commercial AI adoption and funding. For example, AI start-ups in the United States and China both received more venture capital and private equity funding in 2017 alone than EU AI start-ups received in the three years covering 2016 through 2018.[10] The European Union’s laggard position reduces its ability to not only enjoy the economic and social benefits of AI, but also influence global AI governance, which is a goal of the European Commission.[11]

To read the full report, please click here