Tencent unveils ambitious plans for AI

Updated 2017-11-09 10:01:58 Global Times

Benchmark released to guide industry development

As major Chinese Internet companies pursue the development of artificial intelligence (AI), an industry benchmark has been established, and Tencent Holdings has unveiled a multibillion-yuan plan to support start-ups while encouraging integration of AI technologies with traditional industries.

The benchmark was launched by an AI industrial base called China Voice Valley in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui Province on Wednesday.

Over the past six years, Tencent has accumulated more than 13 million partners like software and application developers, created 25 million jobs and paid 23 billion yuan in dividends, Lin Songtao, vice president of the company, said during Tencent's seventh global partner conference held in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province on Wednesday.

"In the future, the company will focus on AI-powered technologies and further open up its platform," Lin said.

Tencent's AI lab has made significant progress in recent years, and the applications it developed have spread to various sectors such as social networks, medical services, retail finance and security products.

Apart from Tencent, other Internet companies have also been investing heavily in AI in recent years.

"We'll be the first generation coexisting with AI," Wang Yongdong, chief technology officer of Microsoft's Asia-Pacific R&D Group, told the AI World 2017 conference held in Beijing on Wednesday.

Baidu Inc, Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent, known as major players in China's Internet sector, have all been actively undertaking research and development (R&D) into AI.

For instance, using "Knowledge Graphs", an AI platform, search engine Baidu can gather vast amounts of information and organize it by using different algorithms, Wang Haifeng, vice president of Baidu, said during the Beijing conference.

About 2,000 companies in China are engaged in AI technology. Some are large-scale Internet firms while others are small-sized start-ups, Zhang Yifu, an expert from the electronic technology information research institute of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), told the Global Times during the Beijing conference.

"It's necessary to provide a unified benchmark for the further development of the AI industry," Zhang noted.

In July, the State Council, China's cabinet, unveiled guidelines for the development of the AI industry, which it hopes will motivate the sector to reach the same level as other advanced countries in terms of technology and applications by 2020.

AI was also highlighted in a report delivered at the opening ceremony of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on October 18, and some provincial governments have announced favorable policies to encourage AI development.

"Different regions have their own edges. For example, Shenzhen [in South China's Guangdong Province] has Tencent and Huawei, and Hangzhou [in East China's Zhejiang Province] has Alibaba," Zhang said, noting that the benchmark will provide a fair evaluation for the overall sector.

By using indicators such as business scale, policy environment, innovative capability and technology support, the AI benchmark can be a reference for top policymakers when granting funds to technology companies, he said.

The benchmark, which is supervised by the research institute of MIIT, could become a national guideline.

Although AI technologies have been booming in recent years, some major challenges exist, industry representatives said during the conference.

For instance, companies have been competing with each other in terms of market scale, which explains Broadcom's bid offer for Qualcomm, Shao Yang, president of strategic marketing at Huawei's consumer business division, told the conference.

"When China embraces the AI boom, we hope companies will not end up 'burning cash' but will invest in a more efficient way," he said.

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