China poised to become AI leader
Once again, a supercomputer has defeated a master of the game of Go. But this time, people were much more positive about the May 27 match, as it illustrated the marvelous promise of artificial intelligence (AI), an industry in which China has become a worldwide leader. Spurred by favorable government policies, China's AI industry grew by 43.3 percent in 2016, surpassing 10 billion yuan (.47 billion), and it is expected to reach 34.43 billion yuan in 2019, according to one industry report. Access to data is one major factor driving China's AI industry. The key to AI development lies in immense amounts of data, said one venture capital investor in the industry. Still, there are challenges that need to be overcome. China's AI industry doesn't have as much experienced talent as other countries, such as the U.S. And the domestic industry needs to become more collaborative and coordinated to dominate worldwide.
The Internet has yet again been buzzing about the future of artificial intelligence (AI).
And once again, the noise was generated by AlphaGo, Google's AI program, which completed a 3-0 clean sweep on May 27 over Ke Jie of China, the current world No.1 Go player.
In contrast to the generally negative reactions to AlphaGo's 4-1 victory over South Korean master Lee Se-dol in March 2016, people are now more optimistic about the future of AI.
"AlphaGo was not designed just to play Go," said Qian Jianlun, a Go instructor in East China's Zhejiang Province. "As an AI project, it will change a lot of aspects of our lives."
Full speed ahead
Qian's words echoed the overall positivity shown by the status quo of China's AI industry.
According to data from iiMedia Research, a major research institution, China's AI industry grew by 43.3 percent in 2016, surpassing 10 billion yuan (.47 billion), and is expected to reach 15.21 billion and 34.43 billion yuan in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
The numbers were driven by a boom in the amount of research taking place in the industry. China has applied for 15,745 AI patents, ranking second worldwide, according to a report by Beijing-based Science and Technology Daily in April.
Favorable policies came as a consequence. More than 40 robotics industry parks have been or are currently being set up around the country, and for the first time ever, AI was included in the government work report Premier Li Keqiang -delivered at the fifth session of the 12th -National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in March.
"We will accelerate research and development, and commercialization of new materials, artificial intelligence [...] and develop industrial clusters in these fields," Li stated in the report.
"AI has become a key driving force behind Chinese companies," said Zhang Yaqin, president of Baidu, China's Internet giant.
"In the AI era, China can innovate not only in products, but also in technologies," he noted.
Big data advantage
For insiders, the further development of China's AI industry will continue to count largely on data.
"The core of AI development lies in the massive amounts of data," said Li Kaifu, chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, a venture capital company aiming to create successful Chinese start-ups.
"In China, we have a huge database, and it has proved to be quite valuable for us," he continued.
Bai Chunli, president of the -Chinese Academy of Sciences, agreed.
"By 2020, China will hold 20 percent of global data, which is expected to reach 44 trillion gigabytes," Bai said on May 29 at an expo on big data.
AI has been playing a bigger role in people's everyday lives.
For example, an AI vehicle monitoring system to intelligently control traffic was rolled out in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang Province, and increased vehicle passing speeds by up to 11 percent during a trial in 2016.
"China is already leading the world in fields such as computer vision and automatic speech recognition," said a May 30 report on the overseas edition of People's Daily, citing Liu Lihua, vice minister of industry and information technology of China.
"We believe that AI presents the most favorable opportunity for us to lead the world," said Li, chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures.
However, for some, what has been transpiring in the industry is not enough for it to successfully achieve sustainable development.
Despite predicting that China's AI market will grow by 50 percent a year, way above the average global rate of 20 percent, McKinsey and Company, a worldwide management consulting firm, noted that less than 25 percent of the AI industry insiders in China have over 10 years of experience in the business, while that number is 50 percent in the U.S.
Also, the country's AI companies have yet to join forces.
"There's been a lack of technical collaboration in our AI industry," said Wen Xiaojun from CCID Wise, a major Chinese think tank. "The interoperability of products is poor, and there is no efficient coordination between upstream and downstream producers."
He believes an industry service platform needs to be set up to boost functions including research and development, application and product examination.
"We need such an incubation center for AI to prosper," he said.