Since 2015, several countries have shown significant interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and have released national-level AI strategic plans. These plans reflect the country’s rationale for embarking on AI. To identify what factors influence the AI approach of a country, this study employs signaling theory to decode strategic national AI plans and understand each country’s rationale. The study adapts the typology of signals and plots AI information given in national AI plans (AI-enabled public services, research, data, algorithmic ethics, governance) in a matrix of intentionality and veracity considering socio-economic and political conditions. Our findings indicate that countries with high democracy scores are more likely than less democratic countries to prioritize ethical and governance issues of AI, however, this is more pronounced in democratic countries with a lower technology base. The results also suggest that advanced research capability and data accessibility for AI is a precondition to developing a nationwide AI system.
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