China - The Future of Artificial Intelligence Research?

1.43 billion people on the planet currently call China their home. That’s also 1/5th of the entire world’s population - more than a ton of people. With this population that will continuously grow as the years go by, it’s inevitable that the technology in China will have to improve and become more efficient to meet this population surge. Simple technological devices need to be produced more efficiently and productively to meet the demands of new families and new children. Thus, artificial intelligence is growing at a direct rate with this population growth. China’s artificial intelligence needs to be up-to-date, proficient, and versatile, more so than any other nation. It is this need that brings China to the position of being considered the new hub of AI research - over any other nation in the world.

The communist party of China predict 2030 to be the year of AI. The year that its AI needs become achieved and AI reaches its peak. But to achieve this goal, China needs to achieve a variety of smaller accomplishments that build up to this large one. Many of these must be completed in 2020. And, fair enough, the steps taken by China are progressing excellently. Researchers have noted incredible leaps in China’s artificial intelligence research education and development. In addition, the worsening relationship between China and the United States, a former rival for China’s artificial intelligence project, creates a more homegrown focus for technology in China without the need for outside influence.

“If America loses its openness edge, then the country risks pushing AI talents right back into the arms of its competitors, including China,” says AI analyst Joy Dantong Ma at the Paulson Institute, a think tank in Chicago, Illinois, aimed at fostering US–China relations.

Unfortunately, however, there are a variety of situations that could go wrong in this journey. Two of these includes a lack of support and commitment to contributing to the theories used to develop the tools necessary, and a lack of willingness by Chinese companies to give up some profit to further invest in artificial intelligence’s growth. In addition, many Chinese natives are viewing this artificial intelligence project as a way to compete with the United States rather than an activity to support the growing population. But scientists still contend that it is more than that. AI technology to support the population will bring worries over healthcare, transport and public services to a near minimum, and improve the standards of living of every individual in the nation.

In addition, China does lag behind in AI hardware. Due to the weakening in its relations with the U.S, companies such as Nvidia, Intel, Apple, Google and Advanced Micro Devices will not offer China any necessary technology to further their AI growth. Zheng Nanning, director of the Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at Xi’an Jiaotong University, claims that it could take 5-10 years for China to reach the level of innovation in fundamental theories, algorithms and coding languages as present in the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Despite these obstacles, other favors do exist in China’s journey. China is considered excellent at holding in talented researchers and passionate computer programmers. In fact, China is home to the second-largest number of artificial intelligence scientists and engineers among each nation in the world. In addition, China is 6th in its number of top AI researchers - the most credited researchers who have their work shared and reproduced in a variety of journals and textbooks. China also has 10 privately owned AI start-ups valued at more than 814,000 pounds or $1 million dollars. Three of these, including Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba, have become worldwide tech giants, almost reaching the levels of Google and Facebook.


The competition among Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent - China’s 3 largest AI companies.

The competition among Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent - China’s 3 largest AI companies.

Onto the future, even if the goals of China do not become 100% accomplished, China has without a doubt improved their technological output due to its sufficient focus in sponsoring the research of artificial intelligence for the betterment of the population. It is the correct move by the Chinese government to support their increasing population rather than attempt to challenge the growth directly. It is important that the government continue making these correct decisions, as well, as this will allow researchers and companies to gain the trust necessary to collaborate with researchers outside of China. Even if the U.S is not an option, there are a vast variety of other nations that will be eager to support China in this project, to move beyond a homegrown focus and more of a collaborative one. As the Earth’s hub of humanity, it’s only fitting that the world protects it.


Yousef Khan