AI development needs global cooperation, not China-phobia

Updated 2018-03-02 17:11:04 Xinhua

China is gaining momentum in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry, which has been translating its huge market size into commercialized innovations. This is a boon instead of a threat.

The cry-wolf alarms that America is losing a race for supremacy in the AI industry by comparing China's catching-up to America's Sputnik panic in the late 1950s, have, in a sense, misinterpreted or misrepresented the true AI story.

A typical misinterpretation goes to the "global tech cold war," which was put forward by Eurasia Group, a New York-headquartered think tank, arguing that the winner in AI and super-computing between the United States and China will dominate the coming decades, both economically and geopolitically.

This outlook, tinged with a sense of crisis, does cite some solid evidences: two countries are competing to make tech breakthroughs, and in some areas, running neck and neck.

It is echoed by CBInsight's report released in February. According to the New York-based venture capital consultancy, China's AI startups took 48 percent of all dollars going to AI startups globally in 2017, surpassing the United States for the first time for global deal share.

China's catching up is not a thing that America is accustomed to, hence leading to two opposite reactions: belittling it or demonizing it. However, both miss the point.

First of all, China's AI sector is not a copycat. Chinese AI company iFlytek, specializing in speech recognition, launched its Chinese-English translation machine at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, causing quite an uproar.

The Chinese company has ranked top in a reading comprehension dataset created by Stanford University. It shows that the wit of iFlytek platform is slightly slower than human performance, but smarter than Microsoft Research Asia ranking second.

But this is not a winner-take-all game. The artificial intelligence involves a progressive learning that requires continuous flow of AI-ready data. It is open sourced and will become stronger with more players.

China's advantages in artificial intelligence lie in its huge size of internet users: over 770 million in 2017, which make up an ideal trainer database for any new algorithm. Algorithm is deemed as a crucial element in the new area, together with AI chips and massive data.

A recent medical advance of AI-based screening for eye diseases and pneumonia, published in the journal of Cell last week, has been jointly made by scientists of University of California San Diego and China's Guangzhou Women and Children's Medical Center.

It should be noted that thousands of pneumonia X-ray images used in the research came from Guangzhou and about 200,000 optical coherence tomography images came from Beijing and Shanghai. Obviously, the therapeutic AI platform will provide substantial benefits to patients in both countries.

Liu Qingfeng, iFlyTek's CEO, told Xinhua at CES that massive data sets, algorithms and professionals are a must-have combination for AI, which "requires global cooperation" and "no company can play hegemony."

On Wednesday, Chinese tech startup SenseTime Co. became the first company to join Massachusetts Institute of Technology's ambitious program to open AI's black box or how AI thinks.

Realistically, this sector has something to do with competition and more with cooperation, which allows for more than one winner.

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