January, 2018

China looks to take leading role in artificial intelligence

Original article: OFWeek

China will build a US$2.1 billion artificial intelligence development park in western Beijing as part of its drive to become the global AI leader by 2030. Up to 400 companies will have offices in the park, which the Chinese government expects will have an output of RMB 50 billion.


Currently, the United States leads the world in the artificial intelligence field on the back of its dynamic private sector. Beijing reckons its model of top-down state capitalism - allowing for some autonomy at the local level - will allow it to surpass the U.S. Last July, Beijing announced a bold initiative that calls for Chinese dominance of AI by 2030. At that time, China expects its AI industry to have an output value of RMB 1 trillion. 

Conventional wisdom holds that the China approach works well for China, but doesn't translate to global dominance in anything but low-end manufacturing - at least not yet. 

The United States maintains certain advantages over China in AI, such as the number of AI firms it has, according to the Tencent Research Institute. The U.S. also produces more research and new ideas related to artificial intelligence.  

Yet Beijing has some important strengths when it comes to AI. In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, China-based consultant Edward Tse points out that China's 700 million internet users and vibrant mobile internet ecosystem offer a treasure trove of data to train AI-learning algorithms. 

Additionally, at the local level the Chinese government is moving swiftly to build up AI capabilities, Tse observes. Remote Guizhou Province has become China's big-data hub, attracting significant investment from Apple, Qualcomm, Alibaba and Tencent. The municipality of Chongqing has set up a bureau to promote AI development together with search giant Baidu. Nothing comparable is happening in the United States. 

Perhaps more ominously, the U.S. government under President Donald Trump is not prioritizing AI development. In a September article, Foreign Policy notes that that White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), a leader of AI policy work under President Barack Obama, has only 30 of its 100 positions filled. Further, the Trump administration plans to cut the annual budget for AI research at the National Science Foundation by 10% to just $175 million. 

In contrast, the Chinese government plans to invest billions in the industry and is making AI development a national priority. The PRC "must, looking at the world, take the development of AI to the national strategic level and firmly seize the strategic initiative in the new stage of international competition in AI development," Beijing said in a recent paper explaining its objectives in AI.