One day, when humanity has been conquered by the robot armies, the year 2017 will be remembered as the year of AI ascendance. In China, the year began with an eye-opener: AI is so much better than us. The best player of one of humanity’s most complicated games Ke Jie was taken down by a mere half a point by Alpha Go, Google’s Deep Mind go playing program.
But the rapid spread of this technology wasn’t the only thing that caught our attention: China—which until recently still struggled to catch up with Western tech developments—has promised to wow the world with its AI achievements. The results are beginning to show: seven Chinese startups made it onto CB Insights’ AI 100 list this year, up from four in 2016.
If 2017 was marked by China’s AI hype, then 2018 will be the year when China’s true AI strengths are truly revealed. To help you prepare, here are our best stories chronicling the rise of AI in China.
“AI could be the best thing or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity,” renowned physicist Steven Hawking told the audience at this year’s Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in Beijing adding that “AI could spell the end of the human race.”
The chilling warning reflected an ongoing conversation between world AI experts. TechNode asked top AI companies including iFlytek and Ubtech, to share their own view on our possible impending doom.
Not everyone is worried about killer robots. Sinovation ventures founder and AI pundit Kaifu Lee believes that the technology poses a more imminent threat to our jobs. Lee gives out advice to students, company owners, VCs and experts on how to tackle this brave new world.
China’s biggest AI company Baidu started this year on a wrong foot with its top AI talent Andrew Ng departing to kick off his own projects. The company quickly recuperated and launched the Apollo self-driving vehicle platform open to anyone anywhere in the world. China is a country of single solutions and according to Baidu, Apollo will be to autonomous driving what WeChat is to messaging.
Baidu has kept itself busy with other projects like its smart speaker Raven H as well as developing its DuerOs platform which has brought us AI analysis of video content popularity, voice recognition, AI-powered maps and more.
Plenty of ink has been spilled over China’s AI push in 2017 but the reality on the ground is somewhat different. This report from LinkedIn highlights one of the industry’s biggest weaknesses—lack of talent. The report shows where AI talent is hiding around the world but it also pinpoints some of the trends that are weakening the development of AI on both sides of the Pacific.
5. China vs the US: Who is winning the big AI battle?
Talent is just one factor that will determine which of the two AI behemoths will gain the edge in of the most meaningful tech advancements in recent years. Funding trends, areas of expertise and theory development will be among the defining factors in this battle. But it is not just giants like BAT that will determine how the game ends—AI companies are springing up like bamboo shoots after rain. Those companies are defining China’s strengths and weaknesses.
6. Forget QR codes, China’s next favorite payment method is your face
Facial recognition is one of the areas where China’s AI has excelled and this has brought us a whole new way of handling money as well as a whole new set of privacy issues. Although a lot of attention has been given to the Orwellian surveillance possibilities offered by biometric identification, there are other hidden dangers brought by facial recognition which are not limited to China.
Putting the genome to work is “the biggest data opportunity in the years ahead,” according to former Baidu veteran John Gu who has joined Wuxi NextCode. The company is one of the many marrying AI and genomics in a push to make precision medicine the next mainstream. China’s expertise in DNA exploration is well known and AI might be the ingredient which will push it this field to the next level.
Toutiao was another company that made this year’s AI headlines. The news aggregation platform has 20 million pieces of content flowing through it each day and the secret sauce that gets people tapping them is its AI services. The most interesting news from Toutiao is that it is actually creating fake news in order to weed it out of its platform. Chinese state media has criticized the company for using AI tech to create echo chambers much like the ones seen at Facebook but judging from the speed of the company’s expansion those chambers seem to be a gold mine.