China makes plans to rule global AI development by 2025

AI development
A security guard walks past robots at 2017 China International Robot Show in Shanghai, China July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China has outlined plans to become a world-leader in AI development by 2025, laying down a challenge to US dominance in the sector amid heightened international tensions over military applications of the technology.

China released a national AI development plan late on Thursday, aiming to grow the country’s core AI industries to over 150 billion yuan ($22.15 billion) by 2020 and 400 billion yuan ($59.07 billion) by 2025, the State Council said.

With this major push into artificial intelligence, China is looking to rival US market leaders such as Google and Microsoft, as it is keen not to be left behind in a technology that is increasingly key from smart cars to energy.

“The local and central government are supporting this AI effort,” said Rui Yong, chief technology officer at PC maker Lenovo Group, speaking on the sidelines of an AI conference in Shanghai on Thursday.

“They see this trend coming and they want to invest more.”

Beijing’s AI plan comes as the United States is poised to bolster its scrutiny of investments, including artificial intelligence, over fears that countries including China could access technology of strategic military importance.

China’s State Council said the “situation with China on national security and international competition is complex”, which was part of the incentive for making a domestic AI push.

“We must take initiative to firmly grasp this new stage of development for artificial intelligence and create a new competitive edge,” it said.

AI revolution

China’s plan follows a similar national AI development plan released by the United States in October 2016.

The roadmap says China aims to catch up to global leaders by solving issues including a lack of high-end computer chips, software and trained personnel. Beijing would also play a bigger role via policy support and regulation.

China has already invested heavily in AI, while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang named it as a strategic technology in an annual report earlier this year.

In February, the country’s powerful state planner opened an AI lab in partnership with Baidu, the country’s top search engine, which is making a major push in to AI.

Lenovo’s Rui said official support for AI was because it was seen as the latest “industrial revolution” akin to the advent of the combustion engine, electricity or the Internet.

“They see the fourth industrial revolution as coming, [and think] we better invest and support and build a very strong ecosystem,” said Rui.

($1 = 6.7719 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Cate Cadell and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Himani Sarkar)

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