Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman testified before the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party about how to preserve the US advantage in critical technologies. Below is a copy of her written testimony.
Chairman Gallagher, Ranking Member Krishnamoorthi, and distinguished Members of the Select Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today and for convening this hearing on a topic at the heart of our democratic future.
The United States and its democratic partners have woken up to a cold reality that after decades of technological leadership, this position is under severe challenge from an autocratic rival, China. At the same time, leadership in critical and emerging technologies is now a dominant mode of national power, through its ability to drive economies, advance militaries, and write the global rules of the road for standards and governance.
Today, China leads in strategic technology areas such as 5G implementation, artificial intelligence surveillance, and elements of quantum communication applications, and remains a fast follower in others. While there is no definitive accounting, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, China holds global leads in 37 out of the 44 technology areas they track.
None of this has been an accident. For decades, we have allowed China to execute its global technology dominance strategy largely unimpeded, naively assuming that economic integration would bring about political liberalization, and ignorant of how that interdependence would be weaponized against US interests and values.
Today, AI chatbots coming out of China have to comply with strict censorship demands and promote “core socialist values”; facial recognition and AI surveillance systems aim to pick out Uyghur Muslims based on their features; to fuel twin goals of control and biotechnology leadership, the Chinese government has run forced DNA collection blood drives to amass the world’s largest DNA database and conduct ethnic and genomic surveillance. At times, US firms have aided and abetted these initiatives, and the lure of market access is a strong silencer on abuses. As China transitions from technology and standards taker to maker, Chinese companies are exporting technology along China’s Belt and Road Initiative and building the value systems they advance into international standards. The stakes for the defense of global democracy and freedoms could not be higher.
I come at this issue as a researcher leading a team at the German Marshall Fund focused on how democracies can together outcompete autocrats; as a former policy professional developing allied technology cooperation initiatives; and, in a past life, as a scientist in the lab conducting quantum physics experiments and building artificial intelligence systems.
I have seen first-hand the incredible strengths of the United States’ science and technology ecosystem, how effectively we attract and draw on the world’s talent, and the crucial role of the federal government in unlocking discovery and de-risking innovation.
In 2007, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held a nationwide competition, the Urban Challenge—aimed at creating the first autonomous vehicles to drive in a city environment. I was part of an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, robotics, and computer science reverse engineering a standard issue Ford to drive by itself and outfitting it with radar and sensing capabilities and drive-by-wire capacity. What was a government-driven garage project then, today has seen the very technologies pioneered adopted into modern vehicles. And the scientists and engineers involved have gone on to build our commercial self-driving car industry.
There is a misconception that US innovation is driven entirely by the private sector and happens separate from or even in spite of the state. On the contrary, as Mariana Mazzucato brilliantly illuminates, government research and development (R&D), including from DARPA, is behind some of our most significant scientific and technological achievements. While the genius of Apple and Steve jobs is touted as the quintessential American success story, the lesser known version is that almost all the scientific breakthroughs that powered the iPhone—from the LCD touch-screen displays and Siri voice control software to GPS, and the very internet itself—came from scientists and engineers in public research programs in the United Sates and Europe.
The rise of Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei is as much an exemplar of Chinese directed subsidies and technology transfer, as it is of democratic apathy towards our own strengths. In the 1990s North American telecommunications Lucent and Nortel cornered the market. By 2008, Nortel went bankrupt and Lucent was sold off. Today, Huawei’s 5G technology is in over 50 countries worldwide, creating concerning geopolitical and technology dependencies.
As we seek to deliberately counter China’s technology dominance ambitions, ensuring US leadership in critical and emerging technologies of the 21st century requires not just using, but cultivating, our own sizeable competitive advantages—a robust open innovation ecosystem, human capital at home and from abroad, an attractive if imperfect power of example, and a strong network of allies and partners that China lacks.
In my written testimony, I offer over a dozen recommendations on how to structure ourselves for the modern technology competition, including establishing an analytical cell to measure the competition, an iterative process to direct modern industrial policy, the creation of a new export control regime and outbound investment screening tools with allies and partners to bolster the effectiveness of these initiatives, and opportunities to deepen allied competitiveness.
The United States holds an incredibly strong hand in this competition. To win, we must play our cards well—and now.