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China’s Artificial Intelligence Revolution: a Sputnik Moment for the West?
China is buzzing with a revived interest in the past – specifically dinosaurs.
Through future-centered initiatives such as sustainable infrastructure and technologies targeting economic and social sectors, China is quietly building a global presence in spheres that are being increasingly vacated by Western countries.
Related advancements in big data, cloud computing, and processing capacity have enabled AI to grow rapidly, heralding a new generation of technology that has disruptive potential in nearly every sphere of life.
Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent have committed substantial resources to develop AI, recruiting the country’s best engineers and scientists to research parks that rival Silicon Valley’s in scale and sophistication (and possibly threatening the talent capacity and status of the country’s research universities).
With recent equity infusions of over $1 billion in 2018 alone, SenseTime is also playing a crucial role in the development of China’s facial recognition-based surveillance programs, among its many other industry collaborations.
Setting aside the usual debates about democracy, privacy, and administrative transparency – all of which are legitimate concerns deserving their own analysis – the fact remains that China is charging ahead with the development of a technology that will likely transform 21st-century economies and societies.
In conjunction with China’s AI ambitions, a vacuum of American AI leadership could be emerging under President Donald Trump’s administration, whose 2018 budget includes a 15 percent decrease in science and technology research.
However, China’s effort to “go global” with AI also includes government partnerships such as a recent agreement with Singapore – the world’s leader in AI research as measured by citation impact – to sandbox-test AI-based solutions in the healthcare and banking sectors.
In closing, it is useful to consider the extent to which the American economy historically benefitted from government investment in technology, as the development of military systems into the 1960s launched a generation of transformational innovation (including the internet) and continues to fuel research and commercial activity in Silicon Valley.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) In China: The Amazing Ways Tencent Is Driving It's Adoption
Tencent Holdings Tencent is a Chinese tech company founded in 1998 and based in Shenzhen that hosts 55% of China’s mobile internet usage on its platforms.
Its mission is to “become the most respected internet enterprise.” The company is China’s biggest social network company with 1 billion users on its app WeChat and 632 million monthly user accounts on social networking platform Qzone, is worth more than Facebook and has extended beyond instant messaging (its product is QQ) and social networking to gaming, digital assistants, mobile payments, cloud storage, education, live streaming, sports, movies and artificial intelligence.
The company’s dedication to artificial intelligence is evident in one of its slogans, “AI in all.” Artificial Intelligence Labs Opened by Tencent In 2016, Tencent opened an AI lab in Shenzhen with a vision to “Make AI Everywhere.” Its focus is on research in machine learning, speech recognition, natural language processing and computer vision and to develop practical AI applications for business in the areas of content, online games, social and cloud services.
Tencent’s Artificial Intelligence Priorities As part of the quad of companies that were identified by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology to develop the next generation of AI technologies, Tencent is forging ahead with new tech investments, research and development.
Why China will win the global race for complete AI dominance
Its One Belt, One Road infrastructure project is reshaping large chunks of the world and its policy for ‘mass entrepreneurship and innovation’ has set aside $320 billion to support entrepreneurs in order to drive a structural shift from an industrial to service-based economy underpinned technology and innovation.
“All the ministries are thinking about it – from the ministry of science and technology to the ministry of education,” Lee says, detailing an array of subsidies, tax rebates, guiding funds and incentives offered by local governments which, in China, typically have a significant role in investment alongside private investors.
“State Council papers have the tradition of rapidly mobilising the whole country as a call to action and we’ve seen that in the speed in which China has built its high-speed rail, and when its mass entrepreneurship and innovation campaign [launched in 2014] caused 66,000 incubators to be built over two years.” Lee, 56, is ideally placed to offer a perspective on the Chinese technology sector, as he occupies the unusual position of being both an outsider yet is, demonstrably, also an insider.
The data advantage is a huge one.” As debate continues in western democracies about the power and influence of technology companies and the way they share and use consumer data, there are few such qualms among Chinese consumers – and certainly none among technology companies, all of which operate with the implicit approval of the government.
we’re in the age of implementation, we’re in the age of data, and China has a better set, a larger set of implementers or good AI engineers who get the work done, who make the algorithms run fast, connect to business logic.” Lee argues that this dominance means that – for its own good – the west needs revise its view of Chinese technology companies being copycats of western products, and acknowledge that, in fact, some categories of Chinese technology are best-in-class.
“Alibaba and Tencent have both developed either their own or invested in shops that are moving rapidly into stores that are smart, AI enabled, with an AI enabled supply chain, inventory management and also deploy cameras and other devices for understanding customers, integrating online-offline customer profiles and even going as far as autonomous stores,” Lee says.
In a country that is mobile first – 90 per cent of internet activity in China is via mobile devices – the proposition is founded on the bedrock of so much innovation in China, namely the most sophisticated, frictionless mobile payments ecosystem in the world, which is used by 700 million people whose online profile is linked to their Alibaba or Tencent payment accounts.
“The future shopping centres will probably be invented by the Chinese and will have full integration of online-offline, personalisation of each shopper and a highly effective combination of things that are service-intensive – such as children’s play areas and entertainment – as well as autonomous services such as fast food and convenience stores.
if there are issues, course correct.” This, of course, could have significant economic impact: the lobbying by the truck drivers’ union in the US to protect its members from the threat of autonomous vehicles – a move that would have little impact were it to happen in China – demonstrates significant cultural differences in how lawmakers approach the structural implications of the effect technology will have on large swathes of the workforce.
“A lot of people outside China question, ‘Oh you have to go outside China in order to be a big global player.’ While I think going global is a great thing and China will make strides, I don’t think it’s as important as people make out because China is already by far, the largest homogenous market in the world, it’s unified in language, culture, and government and it’s also fully connected with mobile payments.
New Frontiers of Chinese Defense Innovation: Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Technologies
Will the Chinese military succeed in advancing new frontiers of defense innovation?
At this point, the trajectory of technological developments is uncertain, and considerable challenges remain to the actualization of deeper fusion of China’s defense and commercial sectors.
US–China strategic competition is intensifying at a time when a range of emerging technologies are poised to change the character of future conflict, perhaps even disrupting the current military balance.
Increasingly, the PLA is not only seeking to catch up, but instead also competing in new frontiers of military power, even looking to leap ahead of the United States in future military competition.
6 Reasons Why China Will Lead In AI
Lee concluded his talk at MIT by stating that “in the age of AI, a US-China duopoly is not just inevitable, it has already arrived.” That was a polite conclusion to a presentation that marshalled plenty of evidence pointing to China moving beyond catching-up to becoming number one.
Companies such as Facebook and Google owe their success to a virtuous cycle: More data leads to a product that is better trained with AI which leads to more users and making more money, enabling the hiring of more scientists and the acquisition of more machines, processing and mining even more data.
Japanese companies had no experience of scale and scope in their relatively small domestic market but honed their competitive skills fighting each other at home before they went to conquer world markets in the second half of the 20th century.
The Chinese government is pro-tech, pro-experimentation, and pro-speed, according to Lee, “as opposed to using policies to forbid things.” Last July, China’s state council announced that by 2020 China will catch up in AI technologies and applications and by 2030 it will become “the world’s primary AI innovation center.” Lee compared this “very straightforward” approach with the Obama administration’s 2016 report on AI which was “very rational and reasoned about long-term resources, regulation, thinking about ethics and things like that.” Quoting the October 2017 speech by Xi Jinping to the 19th Congress which set the goal of promoting “further integration of the internet, big data, and artificial intelligence with the real-world economy,” Lee says “He gets what we are talking about in terms of AI and combining the virtual world with the real world.” For those in the audience in the habit of discounting statements from government officials, Lee noted that in 2010, China said it will be the world leader in high-speed rail.
In the first wave, companies succeed by smartly using online data and Lee predicts that “Chinese internet companies will leapfrog American ones.” Not only because of their lead in mobile and payments, but also because they “are less restricted by anti-trust laws and are tenacious in terms of territory expansion.
In Lee’s estimation, the US is way ahead in technology, “meaning 2 years which is really a long time.” But Chinese companies, with government support, are moving faster, “so we will see who ends up being ahead—I would say it’s fifty fifty at this point.” But Lee was a bit more precise and confident in Chinese superiority in another part of the presentation when he discussed retail automation or autonomous stores.
The world’s most dominant spirit of enterprise has relocated and been reimagined before, transforming from the Merchant Adventurers of 16th century England and their wave-ruling successors to the “American System” which first meant protectionism (and IP theft from the British), and later became the buzzword for the mass production of industrial goods with interchangeable parts and, after 1945, the globe-trotting ideology “of free enterprise and limited government” which reached its apex with the “end of history” in 1989.
“In talking to Lee,” they wrote, “his sense of familial duty and respect for his mother and father are inescapable.” Lee’s father, Li Tien-Min, a legislator in the governing Kuomintang administration when Mao came to power in 1949, had to flee to Taiwan.
- On Monday, January 20, 2020
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