This year could be the year China solidifies it’s lead in artificial intelligence.
The growing presence of Chinese AI was strong enough to affect the date and location of the 2017 Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) conference, in which top AI researchers, scientists, practitioners, and invited speakers were held in one place. When AAAI first announced the 2017 meeting will be held in New Orleans in late January, Chinese AI experts were not pleased, since the dates happened to conflict with Chinese New Year. In the end, the meeting was relocated to San Francisco, CA in February instead.
While top-level AI experts are still from North American and the UK, over 40% of the leading AI research papers in the world are published in Chinese. Chinese researchers also have the advantage of being able to speak both English and Chinese, giving them access to a much wider knowledge pool. The language barrier creates an information asymmetry of the West and the East allowing a room for the Chinese to dominate the field.
Moreover, Chinese government’s full support and investment has been the major fuel for the growth of the field. The government spending on science and technology research doubled its digits every year for the past decade, as outlined by the 2015-2020 Five-Year Plan . According to the plan, which contains little concrete details on the exact numbers and measures but a long list of priorities instead, Beijing promises to increase its R&D investment for 2.5% of the gross domestic product, compared with 2.05% in 2014.
As a part of the government’s ambitious plan to become a global leader in AI, Chinese National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) recently approved the plan to set up a national artificial intelligence lab for researching deep learning technologies. While major Chinese top tech companies like Baidu, Didi, and Tencent are all betting on AI, Baidu will be in charge of the lab in partnership with other Chinese elite universities such as Tsinghua, the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and other Chinese research institutes.
The online lab is responsible for researching topics in seven major fields: machine learning-based visual recognition, voice recognition, new types of human-machine interaction and deep learning intellectual property. The project will be led by Baidu’s deep learning institute chief Lin Yuanqing and scientist Xu Wei, along with academics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhang Bo and Li Wei. The goal of the project is to enhance efficiency and to boost China’s overall competence in AI by designing a machine that mimics human brains’ decision-making process.
“As an open platform itself, the national lab will help more Chinese researchers, companies, and universities to access the most advanced AI technologies in China,” said Yu Kai, the former head of Baidu’s deep learning institute and a lead of NDRC lab project.
While the exact size of the investment involved is yet to be revealed, the highly competitive Chines AI environment demonstrates the enormous potential China has to unlock.