August 16, 2017
China wants to become the most dominant nation in artificial intelligence, and it’s got three advantages that might help that become a reality. In addition to strong government support, which includes a willingness to share data about its citizens, China also has an immense number of engineers to write software and 751 million Internet users who can test out the work they do. As China seeks to gain market share, President Xi Jinping seeks to strengthen intellectual property laws to give its startups an advantage.
Bloomberg notes that, in July, China issued a state plan outlining steps “for the nation to become a leader in the [AI] industry by 2030,” which it claims will create 400 billion yuan ($59 billion) in economic activity in five years. Xu Li, head of facial recognition startup SenseTime Group, reports that, “most Chinese mega-cities have set up institutes for AI that include some data-sharing arrangements.”
“In China, the population is huge, so it’s much easier to collect the data for whatever use-scenarios you need,” he said. “When we talk about data resources, really the largest data source is the government.”
Companies elsewhere in the world are also pursuing AI, but have a much tougher time getting access to data; according to Bloomberg, “DeepMind, the AI lab of Google’s Alphabet, has labored for nearly two years to access medical records from the U.K.’s National Health Service for a diagnostics app.” When the agency began a trial with 1.6 million patient records, “the top U.K. privacy watchdog declared the trial violates British data-protection laws, throwing its future into question.”
Meanwhile, at an official event held in Fuzhou, China, with organizational help from Sequoia Capital and representatives from Dell, IBM and Lenovo, city officials “shared 80 exabytes of heart ultrasound videos” for the nation’s first “Healthcare and Medical Big Data Ecology Summit.”
“The Chinese AI market is moving fast because people are willing to take risks and adopt new technology more quickly in a fast-growing economy,” said Skymind co-founder Chris Nicholson, whose company was part of the Fuzhou event. “AI needs big data, and Chinese regulators are now on the side of making data accessible to accelerate AI.”
The New York Times reports another way that China is attempting to achieve a leadership position in AI and other technologies. The country’s Made in China 2025 plan, in which it compares “controlling global technologies and standards [as being] on par with building military muscle,” is a key driver of an effort “to strengthen laws on patents, copyrights and trademarks.” The plan “focuses on sectors like electric cars, robotics, semiconductors and artificial intelligence.”