China’s artificial intelligence industry received a huge boost of validation from the government on Wednesday, which announced its plans to create a “100 billion level” ($15 billion USD) artificial intelligence market by 2018.

According to state-owned media Xinhua News Agency, the government plans to roll out projects in smart home applications, smart cars, unmanned systems, wearables, and robotics over the next three years.

“According to the plan, China will improve the country’s economy and society, disrupt the core technologies of artificial intelligence, and increase our smart hardware supply capabilities,” stated the government in its announcement. “Over the next three years, the country will build a solid foundation for an innovative, active, collaborative, eco-friendly, and safe artificial intelligence industry.”

As per usual, the government’s announcement was vague. There were no details on how the government planned to achieve its ambitious goals, or what organizations will be involved. The announcement wasn’t explicit about its 2018 “100 billion levels” goal either.

To put that into perspective, according to consulting firm MarketsandMarkets, the world’s artificial intelligence market is predicted to be worth $5.05 billion USD by 2020. It’s worth noting that forecasts on the world’s artificial intelligence markets depend on how “artificial intelligence” is defined. In the Chinese government’s statement, artificial intelligence is defined as a “branch of computer science where machines have human-like intelligence” and includes robots, natural language processing, and image recognition.

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Baidu search queries for “artificial intelligence” surge in March, thanks to Lee Sodol and AlphaGo.

Ever since AlphaGo and Lee Sodol faced off in five games of Go, awareness around artificial intelligence in China has risen sharply. But years before AI became trendy, China’s tech giants have been investing in AI technology, such as Chinese web services company Baidu. In 2014, Baidu recruited renowned artificial intelligence expert, Andrew Ng, as Chief Scientist and head of the company’s research initiative in the U.S., Baidu Research.

Mr. Ng is a professor at Stanford University and is well-known for his work on neural networks and deep learning. At Baidu, Mr. Ng’s research has focused on autonomous or self-driving cars, which the Chinese tech giant hopes to start selling in 2018.

This year, China’s startup world has seen a lot of capital pouring into AI, as well as big data and cloud computing, two industries closely tied to AI. Earlier this May, Lenovo launched a $500 million USD fund for startups in cloud computing, AI, and robotics. Just this week, Microsoft Ventures Accelerator announced its plans to launch an accelerator in Shanghai. Similar to its Beijing counterpart, the Shanghai accelerator will focus on projects around AI, deep learning, big data, and cloud computing.

For now, the government’s “100 billion” announcement is just talk. How the Chinese government plans to complement the country’s already burgeoning – and well-funded – artificial intelligence industry, remains to be seen.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Eva Xiao is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. Contact her at or evawxiao (wechat & twitter).

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