The Artificial Intelligence Race: Is China in the Lead?



Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are the hot topics of conversation in Shangai, reports DW. With AI conferences held twice a month, China has big plans to become the global leader in the field.

“China has a number of top-tier AI companies like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, they have a growing startup culture, and they are working aggressively to increase their human capital through STEM education and by courting experts in Silicon Valley and bringing them to China,” Paul Scharre, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC, told DW. There are many other indicators as well: China has been working on AI in academia, and on both the government and private levels.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are the hot topics of conversation in Shangai

One of the newcomers to the top-tier Chinese AI companies is SenseTime, a company that reports the highest-ever valuation to date among AI startups. SenseTime focuses on deep learning and facial recognition technologies, which, according to their website, “will redefine human life as we know it and establish a new connection between us and the world at large. Not only will this transform society as a whole, but it will push mankind forward as well.”

Just as IBM’s Deep Blue forever changed the word of technology by beating Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, GoogleMind’s AI machine, AlphaGo, beat Lee Sedol in 2016 at Go, the Chinese strategy game, demonstrating just how intelligent machines can become. The latter victory was deemed the “Sputnik moment” for the AI industry.

Will this moment spark a new race — similar to the space race? Some say yes, and even a more intense one. Unlike the space race, there are multiple places in a number of industries and countries. In 2017, China published a plan to build a new generation of artificial intelligence and described AI as a “focus of international competition.” The plan includes becoming the world’s “primary AI innovation center” by 2030.

Others are a bit skeptical. “The goal is ambitious and it’s possible, but I don’t think it’s a certainty,” said Jeffrey Ding, a researcher with the Governance of AI Program at UK’s Oxford University. The European Space Agency (ESA), for example, is making significant headway by sponsoring multiple studies for the use of AI in space and spacecraft operations.

Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, is also not far behind, having developed and sent two humanoid robots called FEDORA to the ISS. The Japanese Space Agency, Jaxa, also developed an intelligent system aboard the ISS. NASA has teamed up with Google to train an AI algorithm that can sift data from the Kepler missions, identify exoplanet signals and spot new exoplanets. In addition, NASA plans to use AI to for Earth Observation.

Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency developed and sent two humanoid robots called FEDORA to the ISS.

During his inauguration speech, Asgardia’s Head of Nation, Igor Ashurbeyli, also said that the space nation’s economy will focus on pursuing its science and technology space program.”

The other side to the innovative technology, of course, is its applications for the military and domestic surveillance. It is ironic that the game Go was chosen, as it its principles are not unlike military strategy. It is yet to be seen what the intersection of politics and AI will look like, and whether the benefits of the new technology will outshine the downsides for the nation’s citizens.

With the US and European private and public sectors actively working on developing their own AI and machine learning technologies, it is hard to tell whether China will meet its goal by 2030. But given its potential and ambitious goals, it is surely not to be discarded.

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Source: Deep Learning on Medium