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China and AI: Here Are the Most Recent Developments

 5 min read / 

For many decades, China has been seen as a country where labour has played a central role in the economy of growth. This was mainly related to the low-cost factor present in the country; something well known across the world.

However, it seems that those days are partly over, as Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly spreading around the dragon’s mainland, especially throughout large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Some specialists even indicate that China is taking the lead in some fields and is thereby catching up with the United States.

It is not surprising that the Chinese state significantly supports AI developments and is one of the main reasons why China is quickly developing in terms of AI.

This article describes the latest Chinese developments in the field of AI. China, and specifically Beijing, is famous for its surveillance of the public. It seems the latest AI investments lead to even more monitoring. The large question that can be formed at this point is whether more monitoring throughout Beijing and China is a positive development?

Chinese State & Company Investments

The capital city of China is highly interested in the latest technological developments around the world. The city wants to use the latest technology to enhance the city’s surveillance, crime prediction and enable the transformation of city services. The state wants to back up this enhancement by heavily investing in AI. Moreover, China wants to be the world leader in the area of AI by 2030, which could potentially lead to an industry worth $150bn.

Recently, a fund – which had state support – received a total amount of $460m to invest in a facial recognition start-up called Megvii. Some say this is the largest individual investment round for a single AI company so far.

It seems China is having several AI development plans for the coming years, especially because China’s Ministry of Finance has plans to invest $1bn in AI oriented projects this year.

Considerably large Chinese players like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent are planning to further develop AI. These developments are not only executed in China itself. Significant investments are made in the United States, where Baidu opened a second research lab in Silicon Valley, California. The main reason behind this movement is to onboard local talent to achieve Baidu’s goal of introducing automatic vehicles on the road by 2020. Alibaba is increasing its investments in AI as well – recently, the company announced it would spend $15bn over the next three years to recruit top talent for AI oriented projects.

The large question is: how will China achieve its ambitious goal of being the leading country in AI by 2030? Chinese companies have a huge playing field in terms of data related to Chinese consumption, payment, health care and transportation, because there are not many privacy regulations and discussions surrounding it.

This means that Chinese companies, like Tencent, have access to about 750 million internet users as input for algorithms and further product testing. Moreover, those same companies can even access national data, like personal ID information, to use as input for facial recognition innovations.

Downsides from the Western Perspective

However, there is also a downside if China is analysed from a western perspective. The Trump administration has recently announced that a further Chinese development of AI could precipitate military enhancement.

This statement was just made in the beginning of the year in front of the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission. Consequently, the US is placing certain restrictions in place that prevents further Chinese investments in Silicon Valley, California.

Chinese Prediction of Crime

Recently, Meng Jianzhu, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s central commission for political and legal affairs, has announced plans to use AI for the prediction of crime and other violent acts in China. AI will recognise behavioural patterns in society and local police forces will be informed about high-risk profiles. These high-risk profiles can potentially be traced and a likely crime or violent action can be prevented accordingly. The following statement was made by Meng Jianzhu about AI and using it for crime prediction:

“Artificial Intelligence can complete tasks with a precision and speed unmatchable by humans, and will drastically improve the predictability, accuracy and efficiency of social management.”

Nevertheless, there are some critics of this. Many people question Beijing’s use of technology to increase its control over Chinese inhabitants. In the end, it is all about privacy in China. The Chinese authorities have no clear limitations since there are no clear privacy regulations in place related to AI.

Conclusion

In short, it is quite a question in which direction Chinese AI developments will go and whether the country is able to reach its ambitious 2030 goal. Regulation-wise, there are some additional opportunities, such as subsidies and loose regulations surrounding AI, for companies and locals to speed up the process of AI-oriented projects.

From a foreign investment perspective, the scenario is uncertain at present, especially if the recent political movements are analysed from a US perspective with regards to the trading and foreign investment relationship between China and America. China is on its way to catch up with the US in terms of AI; however, it still has a long road ahead before it reaches its 2030 goal.

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