Technological dominance is a key dimension of the competition between the United States and China, one that is further stressing transatlantic relations. This paper analyzes the narrative and reality around the nexus between new technologies, defense of shared values, and regulation. Values are a rising element in the transatlantic debate over technology, particularly with the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) surveillance systems and other aspects of exportable techno-authoritarianism. Both the United States and Europe must update their human rights approaches for the digital era, and clear values around new technologies must be defined.
The new European Commission in Brussels, as well as some EU member states, see the need to deal with great power competition as a strategic priority and as a way to achieve “technological sovereignty.” They have identified the nexus between the industrial and digital agendas and regulation as key. From this, three areas of competition and cooperation between the United States and Europe emerge, all of which relate to China’s capabilities: fifth-generation wireless technology (5G), AI, and web-based services. Differences in regulation will be a sticking point in transatlantic relations, but there need not be perfect alignment between the United States and the European Union. Nonetheless, both sides have to push for global regulations in fields such as AI ethics, cybersecurity, and internet governance to avoid China or others filling the void. The article offers some ideas for a transatlantic agenda on technology as it relates to China. A second, forthcoming part of this paper will discuss other geopolitical issues, beyond technology, related to the impact of U.S.-China competition on transatlantic relations and on European unity.