[NDRC Policy] Key move in the age of Artificial Intelligence - Five questions about national strategies for AI

This article was originally posted in the Gongkong news center and is part of a new series aimed at raising awareness of China's Industry 4.0 Initiative.

Xinhua News Agency, Beijing, July 21 - (Reporter Chen Fang, Yu Xiaojie, Hu Zhe)

Similar to the invention of the steam engine and the Internet information age, artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly important role in the current smart age. The development of the new generation of artificial intelligence will profoundly change the world.


China's first AI development plan was recently issued to integrate at the national strategic level.


How strong is the current trend for AI?


In 2016, Global investment in AI has reached USD$30 billion.  From 2015 to 2016, media coverage regarding AI has risen by over 632 percent, and by another 45% in the first half of 2017. This shows the massive global attention AI is garnering.


What is AI? Will humans be replaced by machines? With emerging new technologies, confusion and uncertainty will also increase as well.


"With the acceleration of technological breakthroughs in the Internet, big data, supercomputing, sensors and a wide range of applications, the development  of AI has entered a new phase, charactersized by a strong depth of learning, cross-border integration, human-machine collaboration, intellectual openness and autonomy. ", Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang said.


According to Pan Yunhe from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, China is entering era of evolution for AI. In the future, AI and human intelligence will work together and play roles in their respective areas of expertise, which has massive impact for multiple industries.


The scientific community and the industry generally believe that a new generation of AI technology, will bring a revolution in a comprehensive multi-disciplinary and highly complex way, leading to consecutive breakthroughs in science and technology and accelerating innovation and development across domains and industries.


For example, through intelligent speech recognition technology, live speech content can be rendered in English and Chinese accurately and displayed real-time on the big screen. For IFLYTEK, a company specialising in cognitive voice and language processing, their speech recognition accuracy rate increased from 60.2% to 95% over the past six years.


"AI is the key in simplifying the complex world." Baidu CEO Li Yanhong said that AI will become the biggest driving force for progress for the next 30-50 years.


China's future in AI capability


Given that AI is the driving force of the technological and industrial revolutions, countries around the world have laid out strategies and roadmaps for its development.


China strives to become the global center of innovation for AI by 2030 - The national development plan has provided a strategic blueprint in the form of a three-step goal to promote the advancement of scientific and technological innovation as the main direction of AI development to speed up social and economic integration.


"The release of the plan is a major event in the history of China's scientific and technological development in AI as the first part of strategic planning, towards the goal of AI revolution by 2030, by providing strategic objectives, key tasks and safeguard measures." Vice Minister Li Meng said.


Breakthroughs in AI enhance the ability to drive national innovation, creating a new growth cycle for China's economic prosperity. Li believes that the development of China's AI not only supports economic and social development and transformation, but also contributes to the global development of AI.


China is a global leader in speech recognition, machine vision, machine translation technology; innovation and entrepreneurship actvities in AI are very active with growing influence in China with a series of breakthroughs.


"It is clear that, when compared with developed countries, we are still behind in terms of innovation in areas of research and development, theory, core algorithms, high-end chips;. The local AI industrial ecosystem and value chain has yet to generate a strong influence globally." Pan Yunhe said, with hopes to strengthen the research and application of AI technology to accelerate the development of world-class AI capability in China.


How has AI changed the world?


The term "Artificial Intelligence" has existed for more than 60 years, and the technology profoundly changing human life today with support from Internet technology and big data.


"The new generation of AI will become the driving force for technological and industrial revolution, promoting the shift towards digitisation and Internet connectedness of various domains and industries in the economy." Li Bohu from the Chinese Academy of Engineering said.


The main focuses of AI development currently are big data-driven knowledge and learning, cross-media processing, man-machine collaboration, collective AI and integration, autonomous systems. Based on results of research on the human brain, AI development is entering a new phase.


"Today's AI is often an imitation of man and how he does things. This is a superficial understanding of the intelligence of AI." Jack Ma says. He believes that for China to forge a new path of development, development of such robot technology must aim to achieve what humans cannot.


The new generation of AI shall revolutionise how production, distribution, exchange and consumption is carried out in the economy. A new form of demand for intelligence from the macro to the micro-level will be born from this, giving rise to more new technologies, products, and industries, thereby revolutionising the economic structure.


At the same time, the new generation of AI will also bring new opportunities for application in education, healthcare, post-retirement, environmental protection, municipal governance, judicial services and a wide range of other applications, improving the quality of public services and enhancing the overall quality of life.


How should China go about its AI development strategy?


"The development of AI is a complex systems engineering project on the global scale." Li Meng said. He stated several major new generation AI scientific and technological projects have been included with another 15 projects under the Major Projects for Scientific and Technological Innovations 2030.


The added major projects regarding the new generation of artificial intelligence and other planned projects and tasks will form the overall national strategy for China's AI development, following a "1 + N" format. "1" refers to new generation AI projects, specifically those related to the development of basic theories and key common technologies. "N" refers to supporting technologies and domains for the development of AI.


According to Li, the Major Projects for Scientific and Technological Innovations 2030 is dynamic, open, and will be optimised according to science and technology development trends. In addition, projects will fully garner support from the central government, local governments, businesses, social capitals, multi-channel investments, and other joint development efforts.


Experts suggest that the development of AI should focus mainly on the foundational development of deep learning, inter-domain integration, human-machine collaboration, open-sourced development, and autonomous systems. Through the development of innovation capacity and basic AI theories and key technology systems, AI development should form a forward-looking system blueprint that focuses on the three aspects of research and development, applications and industrial training.


"Major projects for new generation AI technology mainly aimed at cutting-edge AI technologies, and designed according to needs on the national level." According to Qin Yong, Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology, High-tech Development Department, big data intelligence, cross-media smart technology, collective AI and autonomous systems are the all part of the new generation of AI which the country's development efforts should be working towards.


How should China guide its development in AI technology?


Although many well-known industry figures in the scientific community are known to support the development of AI, many also question challenges to employment, ethics, security and other aspects that could be affected by AI development.


As with all disruptive technology, a new generation of AI brings a high degree of uncertainty, as changes to employment structure, impacts on law and social ethics, invasion of privacy are all issues that could arise and require mediation from planning and guidance from the scientific community.


How do we ensure that artificial intelligence remains safe, reliable, and controllable? Li Meng explains that AI technology has both technological and societal characteristics. Hence, it is necessary to not only strengthen the development and application of AI efforts, but also predict the challenges of AI and mediate risks through coordinating industrial, innovation and social policies and regulation.


"Building an innovative nation and technologically capable country on the global scale is not simply a matter of technology research and development. Planing for technical systems, personnel, social governance is crucial as well." mentioned Xu Jing from the Ministry of Science and Innovation Development Division. He says the development plan should promote technological progress for AI while minimizing risk to ensure that journey of AI development remains safe, reliable, and controllable.

  • Author Gong Kong
    Author Title
    Guide Type IIoT in China
    Date 09/22/2017
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