Guangzhou city government announced on Wednesday a plan to launch a zone dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI) in a bid to build a robust digital economy.

Why it matters: Zones are concentrated policy projects. This launch demonstrates Guangzhou’s resolve to encourage data sharing, the backbone of artificial intelligence applications.

  • Competition between municipalities is a defining characteristic of China’s race for technological prowess on the global stage. Cities compete to attract talent and foster high-tech industry as part of the central government’s focus on upgrading industries and fostering high technology development. On a city-by-city basis, Beijing wins out on educational resources and talent, but Guangzhou could leverage its proximity to Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Macao.
  • “In developing industrial policy, we should consider the ecosystem, rather than fragmented dots in the policy paper,” Gao Feng, Director of Open Data China and Partner of Shanghai Morrow Tech, told TechNode.
  • “If we look at the whole area, there are more top universities competitive in AI than Beijing. The question is how Guangzhou can release better policies to attract or encourage cooperation,” said Gao.

Details: The AI and digital economy pilot zone will include the Pazhou area, the Higher Education Mega Center, and Yuzhu area.

  • Pazhou is already home to internet companies like Tencent and Guangdong Technology Financial Group. There is also a strong e-commerce presence—Alibaba, household appliance brand Gome and online discount sales company Vipshop have offices there.
  • Guangzhou’s Higher Education Mega Center houses two super computers and the campuses of some of China’s top technology universities, such as Sun Yat-sen University and South China University of Technology.

INSIGHTS | Shenzhen: Built on factories but not a factory town

Context: Guangzhou is far from the only city to announce policies supporting AI.

  • Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) proposed 20 cities be given the go-ahead to build AI pilot zones before 2023, in an AI development blueprint released in August (link in Chinese). Shenzhen also has a plan devoted to AI released by MoST.
  • The provinces of Guangdong and Shandong have ordered cities within their jurisdiction to embrace the idea of open government data. Guangzhou and Shenzhen already release data, such as information on daily company registration.
  • But China is still behind in releasing real-time dynamic data, with local governments deterred by the cost of building technical infrastructure for data release. They may also lack confidence that data, once released, will generate interest from companies and lead directly to ventures, according to Gao.
  • Another barrier to data sharing is the risk that organizations will be punished by the government if anything goes wrong. Any plan that seriously wants to encourage data sharing must “provide a space to experiment and framework for protecting personal information in data sharing,” said Gao.

Lavender covers regulation and its effects on people. She previously worked in a policy advisory analyzing China’s internal governance for foreign governments and multinationals. A History graduate from...

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