Published on: Mar 19, 2020

China's plan to dominate the AI industry

Industry Blogs

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to become a more significant part of our lives in the upcoming years. Countries are investing billions in start-ups focussed on AI. China is one of the countries betting heavily on AI. Their policies were published in 2017 (AIDP). It indicates that China’s leadership wants China to pursue global dominance in AI technology.

By 2025, AI should have elevated the Chinese economy. The technology will balance production and control enterprises. Their plans are not only domestic. Using the new Belt and Road Initiative, China Aims to invest in over 70 countries. And one of the possible approaches would be to export their AI technology.

AI has been marked by Xi Jinping as a matter of national importance. The push for AI technology is very much in line with the Made-in-China 2025 strategic plan, in which the country aspires to produce higher-value products and services. If China continues its push for AI dominance, they will become an important supplier for the technology.

There are certain advantages China has over other countries which could enable them to become the first AI superpower. Their dense population of 1.4 billion allows Chinese companies to amass extensive quantities of data. Furthermore, the government is keen to assist companies that are developing AI. There are significant subsidies available for companies researching AI.

Datenna’s AI-driven data platform shows a growing trend in funded research of AI technologies.

Some examples of Chinese companies that are currently developing AI are SenseTime and UBTECH Robotics. Presently, SenseTime is developing facial recognition technology that can be applied to payment and picture analysis. Their AI can be used for bank card verification and security systems. They have secured well over 1.5 billion USD in funding. UBTECH Robotics is developing a humanoid service robot. They plan to commercialize it, making it available to the consumer market. The company has secured 940 million USD in funding.

Development of technology and implementation in the real world always has a delay. AI systems that are currently being developed will not see civilian use for the first years to come. The issue preventing real-world application is the cost of development for such systems. Companies developing them are private and need to earn their investments back. Therefore, targeting farmers in rural areas will not be a priority. The businesses will target potential customers who have the resources to pay large sums for their services.

A Peking University study from 2016 showed that a third of China’s wealth is held by the top 1 per cent of Chinese households, while the poorest 25 per cent accounted for just 1 per cent of the country’s wealth. This divide will create a bigger gap in the accessibility of AI. The urban population has a higher average income compared to the rural population. Practical implementations for AI technology will arrive in rural areas years after implementation in the cities. As of 2018, 41% of the Chinese population lives in rural areas.

AI technology has a wide range of applications. It can be used in education. AI could tailor lecture materials to the specific needs of a student. The technology also has applications for agriculture. Autonomous vehicles could cultivate land without human input. As China’s population needs a constant supply of food to sustain it. Health Care is another application. AI could predict and diagnose a disease at a faster rate than most medical professionals.

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, there are instances where China successfully deployed products utilizing AI technology. To limit public exposure to infected people, some cities are using AI-assisted voice robots. They diagnose the virus and give advice on home quarantine. In certain isolated departments of hospitals cleaning robots are deployed to reduce infection rates. The cleaning robot can work nonstop for over three hours. It sprays disinfectant on self-navigated routes.

China has other ambitions concerning the AI technology. China aims to be a market leader in the development of smart products. Examples are networked vehicles, intelligent service robots, and video image identification systems. The deadline to become market leader in AI has been set in 2030 by the government.

To reach this ambitious goal retaining young talent is crucial. Whereas before many domestic talents would leave China for its main competitor; the United States (US). Recent developments regarding the trade relationships between the US and China have quelled migration of talented employees in China.

Number of researchers (thousands) | Source: SCMP

In China, local governments hold much responsibility when it comes to policies. The Shanghai government issued its own application plan for new generation AI. Beijing announced a new AI-focused industrial park to be constructed in Mentougou District. And Guangzhou launched an International Institute of AI. These are just some examples. More districts have secured funds for AI research.

There is much to learn from the determined drive of China’s enterprises to apply AI across various sectors. Whether or not China will emerge victorious in their effort to become the AI superpower in 2030 is to be seen. As of now, the right steps are being taken to assure new startups can acquire funds to progress their developments. The accessibility of the subsidies give many companies a chance. The rapid developments in the AI industry are going to be an important factor in the global economy for years to come.