China’s Artificial Intelligence Revolution


中国经贸聚焦·英文版 2017年9期

On July 20, Chinas State Council issued the“Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” (新一代人工智能發展规划), which articulates an ambitious agenda for China to lead the world in AI. China intends to pursue a “first-mover advantage” to become the “premier global AI innovation center” by 2030. Through this new strategic framework, China will advance a “three in one” agenda in AI: tackling key problems in research and development, pursuing a range of products and applications, and cultivating an AI industry. The Chinese leadership thus seeks to seize a“major strategic opportunity” to advance its development of AI, potentially surpassing the United States in the process.

This new plan, which will be implemented by a new AI Plan Promotion Office within the Ministry of Science and Technology, outlines Chinas objectives for advances in AI in three stages.

First, by 2020, Chinas overall progress in technology and applications of AI should keep pace with the worlds advanced level, while its AI industry becomes an important economic growth point. By this time, China hopes to have achieved important progress in next generation AI technologies, including big data, swarm intelligence, hybrid enhanced intelligence, and autonomous intelligent systems. At that point, the value of Chinas core AI industry is targeted to exceed 150 billion RMB (over $22 billion) in value, with AI-related fields valued at 1 trillion RMB (nearly $148 billion). Concurrently, China should have advanced in gathering top talent and establishing initial frameworks for laws, regulations, ethics, and policy.

Next, by 2025, China should have achieved major breakthroughs in AI to reach a leading level, with AI becoming a primary driver for Chinas industrial advances and economic transformation. At that point, China intends to have become a leading player in research and development, while widely using AI in fields ranging from manufacturing to medicine to national defense. Chinas core AI industry should have surpassed 400 billion RMB (about $59 billion), with AI-related fields exceeding 5 trillion RMB (about$740 billion). In addition, China plans to have achieved progress in the creation of laws and regulations, as well as ethical norms and policies, along with the establishment of mechanisms for AI safety assessment.

Ultimately, by 2030, China intends to have become the worlds premier AI innovation center. At that point, China believes it can achieve major breakthroughs in research and development to “occupy the commanding heights of AI technology.” In addition, AI should have been expanded and its use deepened within multiple domains, including social governance and national defense. By then, Chinas AI industry is targeted to exceed 1 trillion RMB ($148 billion), with AIrelated fields totaling $10 trillion ($1.48 trillion). To support its continued primacy in AI, China plans to create leading AI innovation and personnel training bases, while constructing more comprehensive for legal, regulatory, ethical, and policy frameworks.endprint

Through this agenda, the Chinese leadership plans to leverage AI to address a range of economic, governance, and societal challenges. Since Chinas economic growth has started to slow, Beijing hopes that AI can serve as a “new engine” to advance future economic development through unleashing a new scientific revolution and industrial transformation. Ac-cording to a recent report, AI could enable Chinas economy to expand 26 percent by 2030. Concurrently, AI will be leveraged across governance and society to improve a range of services and systems, including education, healthcare, and even the judiciary. Concurrently, the Communist Party of China(CPC) hopes AI will have utility in enhancing the “intelligentization” of “social management” and protecting social stability, through such techniques as advanced facial recognition and biometric identification.

China recognizes that AI will be critical to its future“comprehensive national power” and military capabilities. The plan focuses on building critical competencies to enable future innovation, applications, and enterprise, with a focus on opensource platforms and open data. The Chinese government will invest in a range of AI projects, encourage private sector investment in AI, and establish a national development fund for AI. Critically, the plan will also cultivate high-end talent, recognized as an integral element of national competitiveness in AI. For instance, China intends to improve education in AI and strengthen its talent pool. Concurrently, China will seek to draw upon the worlds leading talent, including through recruitment and talent programs, such as the “Thousand Talents” plan.

This plan acknowledges and seeks to mitigate identified shortcomings in Chinas current capacity. Although there have been considerable advances in the numbers of papers and patents, the Chinese leadership recognizes gaps relative to more advanced countries, including the lack of “major original results” and relative disadvantage in core algorithms and critical components, such as high-end chips. Looking forward, China intends to pursue high-end research and development that could enable paradigm changes in AI, such as brain-inspired AI and quantum-accelerated machine learning. Although Chinas state-centric approach to industrial policy may have certain disadvantages, this attempt to formulate an integrated, whole-of-nation approach to “innovation-driven development” could be successful in building upon inherent national advantages, notably Chinas massive data resource base and potential talent pool.endprint

While building indigenous capacity, China will seek to coordinate and optimize the use of both domestic and international “innovation resources.” The plan calls for encouraging cooperation between domestic AI enterprises and leading foreign universities, research institutes, and teams. China will encourage its own AI enterprises to undertake an approach of “going out” to pursue overseas mergers and acquisitions, equity investments, and venture capital, while establishing research and development centers abroad. According to this plan, China will also encourage foreign AI enterprises to establish their own research and development centers in China. Through such measures, China could attempt to leverage foreign advances and expertise while in the process of building up an adequate domestic base for innovation. This approach may prove controversial and could provoke further friction, against the backdrop of current U.S. debates on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and recurrent concerns over Chinese investments in sensitive technologies.

Notably, this new plan explicitly highlights an approach of militarycivil fusion (or civil-military integration) to ensure that advances in AI can be rapidly leveraged for national defense. Certain next generation AI technologies that have been prioritized will likely be used to enhance Chinas future military capabilities. For instance, China intends to pursue advances in big data, human-machine hybrid intelligence, swarm intelligence, and automated decision-making, along with in autonomous unmanned systems and intelligent robotics. Accordingly, China seeks to ensure that scientific and technological advances can be readily turned to dual-use applications, while military and civilian innovation resources will be “constructed together and shared.”

Given the potential disruptive nature of AI, China also recognizes that new challenges could arise for governance, economic security, and social stability. As such, this plan calls for minimizing these risks to ensure the “safe, reliable, and controllable” development of AI. While formulating legal, regulatory, and ethical frameworks on AI, China will create mechanisms to ensure appropriate safety and security in AI systems. China also plans to build capacity to evaluate and prepare for long-term challenges associated with AI, including through establishing a new AI Strategic Advisory Committee and AI-focused think-tanks. In addition, the plan includes measures to mitigate likely negative externalities associated with AI, such as retraining and redeploying displaced workers. The CPC will also continue to pursue new techniques to bolster its coercive apparatus and thus assure regime security, such as the use of big data and AI to enable sophisticated censorship and surveillance, as well as the new social credit system.endprint

Looking forward, China seeks to take full advantage of the unfolding AI revolution to enhance its national power and competitiveness. Recognizing the strategic importance of this new technology, the Chinese leadership intends to leverage AI in its quest for innovation-driven development, with the aspiration of enabling China to become a global power in science and technology. Concurrently, the CPC will attempt shape the development of AI in accordance with the objectives and interests of the party-state. However, AI is unlikely to be a panacea for Chinas economic and societal challenges, and the future trajectory of the implementation of this new plan remains to be seen. Ultimately, Chinas AI agenda reflects its ambitions to take the lead in emerging international competition within this critical technological domain.

China aims to become world leader in AI, challenges U.S. dominance

China has outlined plans to become a world-leader in artificial intelligence by 2025, laying down a challenge to U.S. dominance in the sector amid heightened international tensions over military applications of the technology.China released a national AI development plan late on Thursday, aiming to grow the countrys core AI industries to over 150 billion yuan ($22.15 billion) by 2020 and 400 billion yuan($59.07 billion) by 2025, the State Council said.

With this major push into AI, China is looking to rival U.S. market leaders such as Alphabet Incs Google and Microsoft Corp, as it is keen not to be left behind in a technology that is increasingly key from smart cars to energy.“The local and central government are supporting this AI effort,” said Rui Yong, chief technology officer at PC maker Lenovo Group, speaking on the sidelines of an AI conference in Shanghai on Thursday.“They see this trend coming and they want to invest more.”Beijings AI plan comes as the United States is poised to bolster its scrutiny of investments, including artificial intelligence, over fears that countries including China could access technology of strategic military importance.

Chinas State Council said the “situation with China on national security and international competition is complex”, which was part of the incentive for making a domestic AI push.

“We must take initiative to firmly grasp this new stage of development for artificial intelligence and create a new competitive edge,” it said.Chinas plan follows a similar national AI development plan released by the United States in October 2016.endprint

The roadmap says China aims to catch up to global leaders by solving issues including a lack of high-end computer chips, software and trained personnel. Beijing would also play a bigger role via policy support and regulation. China has already invested heavily in AI, while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang named it as a strategic technology in an annual report earlier this year.In February, the countrys powerful state planner opened an AI lab in partnership with Baidu Inc, the countrys top search engine, which is making a major push in to AI.Lenovos Rui said official support for AI was because it was seen as the latest “industrial revolution” akin to the advent of the combustion engine, electricity or the Internet.“They see the fourth industrial revolution as coming, (and think) we better invest and support and build a very strong ecosystem,”said Rui.

Leading Way with Global AI Revolution

Around the world, the shift toward a more autonomous future has been heralded by some as the harbinger of end times, while others are adamant that the sentient computerdriven revolution will usher in a new era of technological progress - the likes of which have never been seen in human history, let alone imagined.

As countries and companies race to be at the forefront of this new technological sector of discovery, one scientist believes that China is extremely well-placed to benefit from the exciting future that artificial intelligence (AI) has to offer the world.

Toby Walsh, a professor of artificial intelligence at Australias University of New South Wales, spoke to Xinhua recently at his fully purposed robot lab on campus that with the current shift toward a consumption-driven economy, the stage is set for China to benefit immensely from the AI revolution.

“China is making a very sensible bet here on AI. It is very well placed to take advantage of the coming AI revolution. It has a lot of data, it has lots of big tech companies which are well positioned to develop,” Walsh said.”It is making very strong bets in this area, so I imagine that China is going to do very well out of this revolution.”Chinas State Council has announced the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Plan that will see China take steps to become a global innovation center in this field.

AI has already begun to manifest itself in ways which most people do not realize, and Walsh said that it has been happening as a gradual process and will continue to do so, albeit at a somewhat faster pace as the technology improves and develops.”AI is becoming more and more widespread in our lives, people dont realize its there. Every time you speak to your smartphone, every time you get a product recommendation, every time you use the satellite navigation system in your car, you are using a bit of AI,” Walsh said.endprint

“Eventually it will become like electricity, it will be everywhere. In every room, in every car, in every device, we will be using AI - it will be the operating system of the future.”

Chinas role in the AI sphere is also comforting to Walsh, who said that he feels worried that the benefits of the rapid advancements in technology that will be made will potentially be too isolated as they are often “winner take all markets” driven by the network effects of the technology.

“Theres only one search engine on the planet - Google -outside of China. Theres only one social media network on the planet - Facebook - outside of China. Theres only one twitter like service, messaging service, on the planet - Twitter - outside of China,” Walsh said.

“The reason that China has had the good sense to protect their own market is that they then have some competition, and if we dont do enough there will be so much power, so much wealth, concentrated into the hands of a few corporations, that they will be wealthier than countries, and they are not answerable like countries - to the people.”

As China continues to make rapid advancements in the AI field and continues to invest heavily into the research and development aspect of this emerging technology, recent studies show that China is poised to become and possibly surpass all others in the pursuit of AI technological eminence.

These studies, such as a recent McKinsey Global Institute report that suggested within that not only will China be able to deploy AI technology successfully due to its “wide range of industries proving a fertile market for deployment,” but also could potentially broaden the scope from the domestic level to a more international approach.

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to fundamentally shape our society for many decades to come. It is a uniquely powerful tool that China can deploy to boost its productivity and maintain its growth trajectory,” the report said.

“The technology industry is becoming increasingly global. China has the capability and opportunity to lead international collaboration in the development and governance of AI, ensuring that this breakthrough technology will positively contribute to the general welfare of all humanity.”endprint


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