Tech firms eye po­ten­tial AI boom

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By MA SI masi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Chi­nese tech heavy­weights and star­tups alike are scram­bling to an­swer the coun­try’s call for greater in­vest­ment in core ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech­nol­ogy, af­ter the govern­ment rolled out a na­tional plan seek­ing to lead the world in AI re­search and ap­pli­ca­tion.

Liu Qingfeng, chair­man of iF­lytek Co Ltd, China’s big­gest voice recog­ni­tion com­pany by mar­ket share, said the plan, un­veiled by the State Coun­cil on Thurs­day, drew a clear path for AI’s devel­op­ment in China.

“It at­taches high im­por­tance to sci­en­tific re­search, and called for more ef­forts to build an open AI sys­tem which can help us at­tract and cul­ti­vate tal­ent,” Liu said. The com­pany has been de­vot­ing 25 per­cent of its an­nual rev­enue into R&D for five years.

“We will beef up re­sources to help China gain a lead in AI re­search,” Liu added

The na­tional plan aims to grow the coun­try’s core AI in­dus­tries to over 150 bil­lion yuan ($22.15 bil­lion) by 2020, 400 bil­lion yuan by 2025, and 1 tril­lion yuan by 2030.

It highlights China’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to achieve break­throughs in core AI tech­nolo­gies such as brain sci­ence and un­manned sys­tems, and ac­cel­er­ate its ap­pli­ca­tion in the man­u­fac­tur­ing, ser­vices, agri­cul­ture and other sec­tors.

Yang Yuan­qing, chair­man of Len­ovo Group Ltd, said his com­pany would chan­nel $1.2 bil­lion into AI, the internet of things and big data over the next four years, to tap into op­por­tu­ni­ties brought by the cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy.

AI is the lat­est “in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion”, akin to the ad­vent of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine, elec­tric­ity or the internet. Len­ovo will take more steps to sup­port and build a very strong ecosys­tem, Yang said.

Baidu Inc, the search en­gine leader in China, said in March it had poured more than 20 bil­lion yuan into AI R&D in the past two and half years. It is now lead­ing the coun­try’s first na­tional lab on deep learn­ing, and is ramp­ing up re­sources to achieve its plan of masspro­duc­ing self-driv­ing cars in sev­eral years.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by con­sult­ing firm McKin­sey & Co, China is one of the lead­ing global hubs of AI devel­op­ment, with its big­gest tech com­pa­nies driv­ing mo­men­tum for R&D. Its vast pop­u­la­tion and di­verse in­dus­try mix have the po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate huge vol­umes of data and pro­vide an enor­mous mar­ket, the re­port said.

In 2015, China and the United States ac­counted for nearly 10,000 pa­pers on AI pub­lished in aca­demic jour­nals, while the United King­dom, In­dia, Ger­many, and Ja­pan com­bined to pro­duce only about half as many schol­arly re­search ar­ti­cles, McKin­sey added.

Xu Li, co-founder and CEO of SenseTime, a Bei­jing-based im­age recog­ni­tion startup, said he is very ex­cited about the na­tional AI devel­op­ment plan.

“It gives us a big­ger mo­men­tum to dig deep into tech­nol­ogy and beef up ef­forts to ex­pand our prod­uct line.”

Xu said his com­pany raised $410 mil­lion from in­vestors ear­lier this month and would de­vote much of that to R&D.

CHEN XIAOGEN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Ro­bots at­tract vis­i­tors at an in­dus­try expo in Bei­jing.

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