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China ramps up tech education in bid to become artificial intelligence leader

SHANGHAI — A bespectacled eight-year-old has become the poster child for China’s campaign to dominate the world of high tech.

The trend of teaching young people to code has been on the rise in recent years, particularly as the Asian giant fights to close the gap in its workforce in the technology sector, most notably AI talent.

“The increasingly fierce trade and technology competition between China and the U.S. puts pressure on China to improve its innovative capacity,” said Zhang Xusheng, a science, technology, engineering and math professor at Zhejiang University.

“And it naturally means we need to bring the students to study high-tech and be more innovative.” In 2018, the education ministry added AI to the high school curriculum, encouraging around 25 million teenagers to study the technology.

The same year, China’s first AI textbook for high school students — which introduces the basics of image recognition, sound recognition, text recognition and deep learning — was put into use in more than 40 pilot schools.

While the private sector has led the response to AI, governments like France, South Korea and the United States also have strategies in place to expand their workforce in the sector with increased investments, although predominantly at the postsecondary level, according to a 2019 UNESCO report.

The market value of the coding industry for children reached around $57 million in 2018 and is expected to surge to around $4.3 billion by 2023, increasing 650 percent in the span of five years, according to a report by iResearch, a Shanghai-based consulting company.

Zheng Weicheng, a primary school math teacher in Fujian province, thinks that teaching AI also has broader benefits by helping children establish scientific concepts and improve their problem-solving ability, which will directly benefit their future development.

Science and technology in China

The Chinese government has placed emphasis through funding, reform, and societal status on science and technology as a fundamental part of the socio-economic development of the country as well as for national prestige.

China has made rapid advances in areas such as education, infrastructure, high-tech manufacturing, academic publishing, patents, and commercial applications and is now in some areas and by some measures a world leader.

It was characterized by a bureaucratic organization led by non-scientists, research according to the goals of central plans, separation of research from production, specialized research institutes, concentration on practical applications, and restrictions on information flows.

Among other measures it saw the scientific community and formal education attacked, intellectuals were sent to do manual labor, universities and academic journals were closed, most research ceased, and for nearly a decade China trained no new scientists and engineers.[6]

During this period China has succeeded in developing an innovation infrastructure, founded on the establishment of over 100 science and technology parks in many parts of the country, along with encouragement of entrepreneurship outside the state-owned sector.

Indeed, China's leaders (like those of other countries) have long seen scientific and technological development as vital for achieving economic affluence, national security, and national prestige.

In 2019, reports surfaced stating that the Chinese government has ordered all foreign PC hardware and operating systems that are installed in government offices to be replaced in the next three years.

Between 2003 and 2012, gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) rose from 1.13% to 1.98% of GDP, suggesting that the country was on track to meet its target.[23]

However, several convergent factors cast doubt over the accuracy of Battelle's prediction: the deceleration in China's rate of economic growth in 2014, the considerable drop in industrial production since 2012 and the major stock market slide in mid-2015.

The prolonged policy focus on experimental development has resulted in enterprises contributing three-quarters of Chinese research spending (77% of total expenditure on R&D in 2015).

Intense rivalry for research and high-tech industry has been argued to sometimes create wasteful subsidized overcapacity, dispersal of efforts better centralized in a few localities, and poorly judged bureaucratic subsidizing of technologies that soon become out-dated.[28][30]

In the first participation of Chinese student in an international student assessment test, the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, 15-year-old students from Shanghai ranked first in all of the three categories: mathematics, science, and reading.

One explanation for the Chinese results may be a culture emphasizing education and competitive examinations and more time spent studying in part due to less participation in activities such as sports.

While there was no evidence of cheating or technical problems with the testing, Shanghai which attracts many immigrants from the rest of China may have allowed particularly good students to study in the city and the students may have been told that the test was important for China's image.

He also said that the results 'refute the commonly held hypothesis that China just produces rote learning' and 'Large fractions of these students demonstrate their ability to extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge very creatively in novel situations'.[33]

The C9 League, pitched as China's Ivy League, is an alliance of nine elite Chinese universities which receive a high amount of national research funding and produce a large share of national research output.

A 2009 study found that only 10% of Chinese students plan to stay in the United States due to visa restrictions, fear of lack of job opportunities, and belief that US growth will lag behind average world growth rates.

When they return, foreign educated students often provide crucial science and technology knowledge, management skills, and innovation abilities for scientific research and industry.

By using 'Brain Gain' to attract highly educated overseas Chinese to return to China to work, China has made significant improvements in its innovation ecosystem although there are some limitations to how sustainable this technique may be.

The China Internet Information Center stated in a 2005 article that China had inter-governmental cooperative S&T agreements with 96 nations, cooperative S&T programs with 152 nations and regions, and participated in more than 1,000 international S&T cooperative organizations.

Chinese researchers held 281 leading posts on international organizations' expert committees and held 293 executive member-director or higher level positions.[42]

Chinese supporters have argued that the foreign R&D serves as a role model and encouragement for indigenous companies and creates skilled communities from which labor and knowledge can easily flow to indigenous companies.

Corporations have argued that this is a necessity in order to adapt products for the local requirements of the Chinese market as well as it being essential for maintaining global competitiveness to make use the many available Chinese engineers and scientists.

Another serious problem was that companies facing severe competition looked first to purchase foreign technology rather than investing in developing technology and technology development capacity at home in China.

The central Chinese government, a large buyer of high-tech products, in 2009 proposed controversial policies demanding that companies selling to it promote Chinese innovation and that the products sold are free of foreign intellectual property.[45]

Companies are required to divulge to Chinese authorities the inner workings of many technologies in the name of national security, and have accused the Chinese security forces of illegally sharing this technology with civilian industries.[51]

World Intellectual Property Organization data shows that Chinese companies have also become more important regarding patents overseas with Chinese companies now being on place two and four regarding number of patent applications filed by individual companies.

The low share of social sciences compared to natural sciences may reflect that this is a common pattern in Asian nations, that Chinese social scientists publish in national journals not included in the Index and have less career incitements regarding publishing in international journals, and that state ideology and control is more important for social sciences than natural sciences.

Articles published in China related to basic medial science and clinical research and indexed by PubMed increased on average by 31.2% and 22% each year between 2000 and 2009.

The Chinese government has put into place stricter regulations, punished or terminated some journals, and aims increase quality control and peer evaluation of journals as well as to create five to ten large publishing groups.[60]

As part of the reforms, in 2012 the China Association for Science and Technology, which oversees 1,050 journals, in a declaration listed various forms of misconduct, plagiarism, and fraud and as well, the penalties for perpetrating them such as written warnings, blacklisting, contacting the researcher's home institution or funding agencies, or public disclosure.

It has also been seen as important by increasing pressure on other journals and by informing editors who may not know that some actions such as favoring researchers based on personal relations are unacceptable.

In 2010 state owned enterprises won many biddings for renewable energy projects since they did not have worry about paying off investments for several decades and could ignore risks and costs.

Private enterprises surpassed stated owned enterprises during the 2002-2007 period regarding rapidity of increase of research spending, patent applications, and R&D laboratories.

some Chinese scientists, including Professor Liu Ming (刘明) of Zhejiang University in his 2005 book Critique of the Academic Evaluation System (学术评价制度批判), argue that interference from government officials and university bureaucrats makes peer review far less effective in China than it could be.

Liu argues that the command economy mentality of measuring everything by the numbers combined with pervasive political interference results in a great waste of money, human talent as well as considerable corruption in Chinese science.[63]

A 2008 investigation into a certification for high-tech enterprises allowing large tax breaks and other advantages found that more than 70% of the enterprises had gained this under questionable circumstances and an investigation of a sample found that 73% did not pass the requirements.[28]

The State Science and Technology Prizes, including the State Preeminent Science and Technology Award, are the highest honor in People's Republic of China in science and technology, in order to recognize citizens and organizations who have made remarkable contributions to scientific and technological progress, and to promote the development of science and technology.

China has been buying millions of foreign breeder animal as well as large amount of foreign semen and livestock embryos in order to rapidly improve the genetics of Chinese livestock.[67]

2012 study found that China's share of academic papers in the field of nanotechnology had increased from less than 10% in 2000 to nearly a quarter in 2009 and had overtaken the United States for first position.

In terms of the density of publication, however, the United States remained ahead, with 68.76 articles on nanotechnology per million inhabitants, compared to 25.44 per million for China in 2014.[23]

According to the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology, China contributed about one-quarter of all academic articles published around the world in materials science and chemistry and 17% of those published in physics between 2004 and 2014 but just 8.7% of those in molecular biology and genetics.

On 8 July 2017, the Chinese State Council announced plans to turn China into the world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030, seeking to make the industry worth 1 trillion yuan.[74]

The State Council published a three-step road map to that effect in which it outlined how it expects AI to be developed and deployed across a wide number of industries and sectors, such as in areas from the military to city planning.[74]

According to the road map, China plans to catch up to current AI world leaders' technological abilities by 2020, make major breakthroughs by 2025 and be the world leader in 2030.[75][76]

Ehang also created the world's first flying taxi drone, Ehang 184, an eco-friendly low altitude autonomous aerial vehicle capable of providing transportation and medium distance communication.[77][78][79][80][81]

In some regions, such as the Pearl River Delta, manufacturers have problems with labor shortages, raising wages, and higher expectations regarding work from more highly educated young people.

The Chinese software industry in 2010 had a higher than 15% share of the world's software and information service market and had been growing by an average 36% each year during the previous decade.

State-owned China Telecom has already deployed 5G-oriented C-RAN fronthaul network, unveiling that it will be conducting commercial trials of 5G technology in 2019 and carry out network field trials in six Chinese cities in the latest sign of China's determination to lead the global deployment of the next-generation mobile technology.[92][93][94]

Supercomputing affects the possibility to do cutting-edge research in many areas such as design of pharmaceuticals, cryptanalysis, natural resource exploration, climate models, and military technology.

As of 2017, China had 202 of the 500 greatest supercomputers in the world, far exceeding any other country (including the US which has 143), in addition to possessing the top 2 most powerful supercomputers.[95][96]

This may be due to factors such as poorly guided state and local government support for soon outdated technologies and geographically scattered efforts, lacking engineering education, and poor protection of intellectual property.

This may change by factors such a new emphasis on market mechanisms rather than direct support, concentration of efforts, return of Chinese who have studied abroad, increased pressure on foreign companies to transfer technology, indigenous Chinese technological standards, and increased demands for indigenous technology in the local market.[30][101][102]

The country has rapidly progressed in the semiconductor industry, while backing its largest chip maker and developer, Tsinghua Unigroup, with a US$150 billion funding to secure China's dominance in the semiconductor technology, and build a world-class semiconductor industry over the next 5 years.[103][104][105]

Nuclear power is planned to be rapidly expanded with China wanting to maximize self-reliance in nuclear reactor technology manufacturing and design although international cooperation and technology transfer are also encouraged.

China in 2012 intended to spend $100 billion on smart grid technology during the next five years, to install 300 million smart meters before 2016, and to become the world leader in electric power transmission.[111]

Successful indigenous artistic creativity is seen as a problem and may be restricted by factors such as production being aimed at getting government patronage rather than public approval, censorship, and some storylines based on Chinese culture not appealing to foreign audiences.[113]

DreamWorks Animation, in a joint venture with Chinese companies, will set up a studio in Shanghai that may eventually get bigger than DreamWorks HQ, in part to avoid to quota restrictions on foreign films with China within a decade having been predicted to become the world's biggest cinema and entertainment market.[114][115]

Stem cell research and stem cell treatments are less controversial in Chinese culture which have supported Chinese research as well medical tourism to China in order to receive experimental and often unproven therapies.

The chief executive of Hoffmann-La Roche in 2012 stated a few years ago many Chinese life sciences scientists had to leave China but that many were now returning to conditions often better than in the West regarding laboratories, funding, and political support for the industry.[128]

A 2010 US government report stated that US export controls of advanced five axis machine tools were ineffectual due to the technical capabilities of Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers.[133]

Despite increased defense spending, China's share of the world's import of arms is rapidly falling, in part reflecting the increased abilities of the indigenous military production.[139]

The Chinese defense sector remains almost completely state-owned but military equipment production has been reorganized into corporate bodies allowing limited competition and the defense patent system has been reformed to allow greater rewards to innovative enterprises and individuals.

The organizational structure has shed civilian applications while at the same time cooperation with the civilian sector has increased and state supported civilian research sometimes have dual use applications.[28]

One possible explanation is a continued Soviet style fragmentation of the research and production line into many isolated units having little contact with one another causing problems with overall standardization, integration, and quality control.

China had received extensive technical help from the Soviet Union to jump-start their nuclear program, but by 1960, the rift between the Soviet Union and China had become so great that the Soviet Union ceased all assistance to China.[1] Thus, the Number 6 test was indeed an independent endeavor, after the induced military and economic sanctions enacted by the superpowers at the time, the United States and the Soviet Union.

It is also known as Yu Min Design (or Yu-Deng Design) as Yu Min made major contributions included the solutions to a series of fundamental and critical theoretical problems of nuclear weapons, which led to breakthrough of the unique hydrogen bomb.

Technological solutions were initially concentrated on achieving massive low-cost production but increasing emphasis has been placed on environmental and safety issues in part reflecting greater concern in China with environmental issues.

China has imposed export quotas on rare earth elements, 95% of which are mined in China, citing environmental issues, but has been accused of wanting to force high-tech industry using rare earth elements to move to China.

Other steps towards manufacturing such as refining is controlled by China and Japan with the previously dominant United States having lost all of its producers and much of its fundamental technological ability with the number of scientists and engineers in the area declining dramatically.[142]

China plans to launch 5 commercial satellites for foreign customers in 2012 and aims to capture 15% of the commercial launch market and 10% of the satellite export market by 2015.

China in 2012 produced more than one-third of the developed world's apparel import but the share has been decreasing in recent years as low-technology and labor-intensive production has been moving to regions like Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.[152][153]

China in 2010 proposed controversial legislation requiring foreign electric vehicle producers to form minority joint-ventures and share technologies with Chinese carmakers in order to get market access.[158]

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