‘Made in China 2025’: China has a competitive AI game plan but success will need cooperation

October 1, 2018
Industry News
Content Provided By:


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Sarah Dai
sarah.dai@scmp.com

Alice Shen
alice.shen@scmp.com

The fourth instalment of a series on China’s hi-tech industry development master plan looks at artificial intelligence (AI) and its promise to lift the country’s industries up the value chain

Go, also known as weiqi, has been played in China since the Zhou dynasty that ran from 1,046-256BC. A two-person strategy game on a 19 X 19 grid board with black and white stones, weiqi is the most complex contest played by humans, with more possible moves than the total number of estimated atoms in the visible universe.

But in 2017 an emblem of Western innovation outplayed the Middle Kingdom at literally its own game, when AlphaGo, a computer program from Alphabet's DeepMind Technologies, beat the world’s top player Ke Jie 3-0 in a Sputnik-like moment that spurred China into a concerted, state-directed effort to catch up in artificial intelligence (AI).

Dubbed the fourth industrial revolution, the development of AI encompasses a wide range of technologies that can perform tasks characteristic of human intelligence, such as understanding language and recognising objects. Sometimes described as machine learning, what separates AI from ordinary computer programming is the capacity for machines to correct themselves through trial and error, mimicking the cognitive functions of the human mind.

After many false starts in the 20th century, AI is finally making waves and has captured the attention of policymakers around the world due to concurrent advances in computer power, data collection and theoretical understanding.

Aside from gaming, the practical applications of AI are huge – from diagnosing serious illnesses like lung cancer using medical imaging, to improving manufacturing processes using sensors and big data, to enhancing security and surveillance at immigration controls at airports using facial recognition technology.

Although the US had a head start, 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.

The process started with the issuance by the State Council in July 2017 of “A Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan”. The three-step road map involves keeping pace with leading AI technologies and applications in general by 2020; then to achieve AI breakthroughs by 2025; and finally to be the world leader in a domestic industry worth US$150 billion by 2030.

Beijing originally appointed four technology leaders – Baidu, Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holdings and iFlyTek – as “national champions” to lead the development of innovational platforms in self-driving cars, smart cities, computer vision for medical diagnosis, and voice intelligence, respectively. Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.

It recently added to its list the Hong Kong start-up SenseTime, which specialises in face- and image-recognition technology, to establish an AI innovational platform for intelligent vision. Continue Reading

 





 

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