Is China Already in the 21st Century in the Fields of AI for Healthcare and Quantum Computing?

Kim BellardIt is 2018 everywhere, but not every country is treating being in the 21st century equally. China is rushing into it, even in healthcare, while the United States is tip-toeing its way towards the future. Especially in healthcare.

Ready or not, the future is here...and the U.S. may not be ready.

Let's look at a few examples:

5G: You may just be getting used to 4G, but 5G is right around the corner, with U.S. carriers expected to start offering networks in a few cities by the end of this year. Meanwhile, China has committed to having national 5G coverage by 2020, and the government is working closely with its private sector to spur development.

According to The Wall Street Journal, being the leader in 5G matters. Rob McDowell, a former FCC commissioner, said: "The Ubers, the Airbnbs, the Netflixes of the world came about because of 4G. No one foresaw the app economy coming. What's exciting about 5G is that nobody can really fathom what's going to happen." Not being the leader, he thinks, would put "the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage globally."

U.S. wireless trade association CTIA believesChina is leading the 5G race.

Deloitte agrees; in a recent report, they cite reasons why China is leading, and warn that countries that adopt 5G first "are expected to experience disproportionate and compounding gains in macroeconomic benefits caused by "network effect."'

Artificial Intelligence: Yes, the U.S. has been the leader in A.I., with some of the leading universities and tech companies working on it. That may not be enough.

A year ago China announced that it intended to be the world leader in A.I. by 2025. The Next Web recently concluded that China's progress since then "remains unchecked." China is far outspending the U.S. on A.I. research and infrastructure, coordinating efforts between government, research institutes, universities, and private companies.

Dr. Steven White, a professor at China's Tsinghua University, "likens the country's succeed at all costs AI program to Russia's Sputnik moment." We have yet to have that wake-up call.

Quantum computing: Don't worry if you don't understand quantum computing; no one does. What matters is that quantum computing is literally a quantum leap above what current computing, so the first to deploy it will have unimaginable advantages.

Take a guess what country is leading.

Paul Stimers, the founder of the U.S. Quantum Industry Coalition, told CNN: "They [China] have a quantum satellite no one else has done, a communications network no one else has done, and workforce development program to bring new Chinese quantum engineers online. You start to say, that's worrisome."

Axios summarized a new report from the Center for New American Security, which believes China has "some serious advantages" in the field. The report doesn't claim China is the leader yet, but it is already "world-class" and quickly catching up to U.S. advantages. As with A.I., the authors believe China has had a "Sputnik moment" for quantum computing. and is "far outstripping American planning."

Genetic research: The U.S. has been the leader in genetic research, but -- you guessed it -- that lead has been rapidly diminishing. Earlier this year, Eric Green, the head of the National Human Genome Research Institute told Asia Times:

I do know that if you look in the last 15 years, the investment in genomics, in particular, have been more substantial in countries like China, South Korea, Singapore, and even places like Brazil. Support for biomedical research in the United States has not really kept up with inflation, and other countries have taken our playbook and run with it more aggressively."

For example, the U.S. is still doing research on techniques like CRISPR, but The Wall Street Journal found that China is "racing ahead" in gene editing trials, in large part due to a more relaxed attitude towards regulation and possible ethical considerations.

When it comes to healthcare, China recognizes the shortcomings of its existing system and is rapidly trying to deploy 21st century solutions to it. China adopted a universal healthcare system in 2011 (about the same time the U.S. adopted ACA, which was considered a success to "only" leave 15% of the population without coverage), and has been investing heavily since then.

Last year Fortune reported on China's healthcare "boom," spurred in part due to direct government investments and favorable regulatory processes. Similarly, earlier this year The New York Times notedU.S. tech companies' interest in healthcare, but pointed out that their Chinese counterparts had already jumped in.

Laura Nelson Carney, a healthcare analyst at Bernstein Research, told The Times: "It's fair to say that across the board, the Chinese tech companies have all embraced being involved in and being active in the health care space, unlike the U.S., where some of them have and some have not."

They are doing this because China sees technology -- especially A.I. -- as the way forward in healthcare. Check out these headlines:

You get the picture. As Sigal Atzmon, president and CEO of Medix Global, told ejinsight: "What's going on [in China healthcare sector] is so big, that even if only 70 percent of this comes true, it's a revolution."

Instead of looking to the 21st century, in the U.S., our healthcare system still uses faxes. Its data is still largely stuck in silos.

Instead of vigorously advancing AI doctors like China is, we're hoping to address our supposed physician shortage by training more physicians, by offering "free" medical school tuition, and by addressing physician burnout. Our crazy-quilt sets of regulations have made doing innovative approaches like telehealth difficult, with licensing and certification processes that burden for physicians and which don't seem to help patients much either.

Imagine when we want to license A.I. doctors.

I don't want to live in China, nor would I want to get my health care there. Yet. But if we don't soon have our own "Sputnik moment" (or moments), we're going to see the 21st century of healthcare happen in China, not here.

Is China Already in the 21st Century in the Fields of AI for Healthcare and Quantum Computing? was authored by Kim Bellard and first published in his blog, From a Different Perspective.... It is reprinted by Open Health News with permission from the author. The original post can be found here.