China: Artificial intelligence given priority development status

China has pledged to prioritise the development of AI within the government’s latest annual work report, underlining its ambition to lead what has fast become one of the hottest areas of innovation. One analyst is now projecting the industry in China to grow by more than 50 per cent in value to $5.5 billion by 2018.
“We will implement a comprehensive plan to boost strategic emerging industries,” said Premier Li Keqiang in his delivery at the annual parliamentary session in Beijing over the weekend.
“We will accelerate research & development (R&D) on, and the commercialisation of new materials, artificial intelligence (AI), integrated circuits, bio-pharmacy, 5G mobile communications, and other technologies.”
Artificial intelligence, which focusses on creating machines that work and react like humans, will create the next industrial revolution and China and “should grab the opportunity to overtake other global competitors” in the field, added Zhou Hanmin, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the nation’s top political advisory body, during the “two sessions”.
Larry Cao, director of content for the CFA Institute, in response to Premier Li’s remarks on artificial intelligence, warned R&D and commercialisation “are high risk and often long term in nature” but that government backing will go a long way to paving the way for the industry to develop fast.
“If the government provides strong funding support, it will give China an edge in this competitive field,” said Cao.
This increased state support for AI will fuel an industry that could grow to 38 billion yuan in market size by 2018 from 24 billion yuan last year, according to the estimate by Beijing’s CCID Consulting Company in a recent research report, that would represent a massive 60 per cent growth in just two years.
The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planner, has already given the green light to the creation of 19 national engineering labs this year, three of which are dedicated to AI research and application, including deep learning, brain-like intelligence, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies.
“The tech world is shifting from a ‘mobile’ to an ‘artificial intelligence’ era, driven by deep learning, big data, and graphics processing units (GPUs), all of which accelerate the ability to compute,” said Rex Wu, an equity analyst for Jefferies.