In the battle for tech supremacy between the US and China, America has “dropped the ball” in funding for basic research, according to former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt.
And that’s one of the key reasons why China has been able to catch up.
Dr Schmidt, who is currently the Chair of the US Department of Defense’s innovation board, said he thinks the US is still ahead of China in tech innovation, for now.
But that the gap is narrowing fast.
“There’s a real focus in China around invention and new AI techniques,” he told the BBC’s Talking Business Asia programme. “In the race for publishing papers China has now caught up.”
China displaced the US as the world’s top research publisher in science and engineering in 2018, according to data from the World Economic Forum.
That’s significant because it shows how much China is focusing on research and development in comparison to the US.
For example, Chinese telecoms infrastructure giant Huawei spends as much as $20bn (£15.6bn) on research and development – one of the highest budgets in the world.
This R&D is helping Chinese tech firms get ahead in key areas like artificial intelligence and 5G.
Dr Schmidt blames the narrowing of the innovation gap between the US and China on the lack of funding in the US.
“For my whole life, the US has been the unquestioned leader of R&D,” the former Google boss said. “Funding was the equivalent of 2% or so of GDP of the country. Recently R&D has fallen to a lower percentage number than was there before Sputnik.”
According to Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a US lobby group for technology, the US government now invests less in R&D compared to the size of the economy than it has in more than 60 years.
This has resulted in “stagnant productivity growth, lagging competitiveness and reduced innovation”.
Dr Schmidt also said the US’s tech supremacy has been built