China is rapidly catching the US in battle for AI supremacy via adoption and data, says report

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 20 Aug 2019

Report says China’s techno-utilitarian culture is more willing to adopt AI if it provides a broader social good. — SCMP

China is rapidly catching up to the US in artificial intelligence (AI), especially in the areas of data and adoption as Beijing strives to become a global leader in the field by 2030, according to the authors of a new think-tank report.

China “appears to be quickly reducing the gap” in AI, says the report from the global Center for Data Innovation released on Aug 19. “Compared with its Western counterparts, China’s techno-utilitarian culture is more willing to adopt AI if it provides a broader social good, even if some individuals believe there are ethical questions concerning AI.”

With nearly 1.4 billion people and 829 million Internet users, many experts argue China lends itself to rapid AI adoption as it has access to huge data sets, the “oil” for future AI development.

AI has assumed a key role in Beijing’s ‘Made in China 2025’ master plan, which promises to lift the country’s industries – from robotics and aerospace to new materials and new energy vehicles – up the value chain, replacing imports with local products and building global champions able to take on Western giants in cutting-edge technologies.

A three-step road map involves China keeping pace with leading AI technologies and applications in general by 2020; achieving AI breakthroughs by 2025; and finally to be the world leader in a domestic industry worth US$150bil (RM627.36bil) by 2030.

To be sure, the US still leads in AI in the areas of talent, research, development, and hardware. Notably, China still lags in high-quality AI talent and in the development of semiconductor chips that power AI systems, according to the report.

However, China is quickly applying artificial intelligence technologies to many walks of life, from catching criminals, detecting cancers to developing self-driving cars. Internet giants such as Baidu, Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding have invested billions of dollars in AI to enhance their ecosystems.

“China indeed is leading in the adoption of AI, because the market need is huge. Chinese people also tend to accept the new technology relatively quickly [compared to Western markets], said Gu Wenjun, an analyst at China-based semiconductor research firm ICWise. “China’s AI companies seem very active but when it comes to chips, the key to winning the real AI battle, we are still behind.”

China’s government is pouring money into the domestic chip industry to achieve greater self-sufficiency. The state-backed China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, known as the Big Fund, aims to raise as much as 200bil yuan (RM118.46bil) in its second financing round to invest in home-grown chip companies, according to a Bloomberg report in March. South China Morning Post

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