How China is running the Artificial Intelligence marathon, ahead of everyone ?

Sushrut Tendulkar
Jan 27 · 7 min read

For you, all Chinese might look similar but not for the AI powered, Chinese mass surveillance system. Well you might think Chinese are expert in eating anything that moves, but what you don’t know is their expertise in AI.

Source : https://www.nytimes.com/

Last year everybody paid special attention to the two books found in the book shelf of Chinese President, Xi Jinping — The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World by University of Washington computer science professor Pedro Domingos and Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane by Australian futurist Brett King.

This is of no surprise because just few months earlier, during his keynote speech at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, Xi called for “deep integration between [China’s] real economy and advanced technologies including the internet, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.”

In 2017, Google’s computer program, Alpha Go, defeated Chinese Go master, the world’s best player of what might be humankind’s most complicated board game. While everybody else was busy hailing the new technology, Chinese were seriously planning to build up their AI capabilities.

Two months after the defeat in Go game, The Communist party laid out a grand plan to conquer the world by setting themselves three bench marks to achieve,

  1. Keep up with world’s AI technology by 2020
  2. Achieve major AI breakthrough by 2025
  3. Be the world leader in AI by 2030

What China has which others don’t ?

The main fuel for AI algorithms is not technology or computing power but the Data itself. Unlike the west, China doesn’t have strict Data Privacy laws. This is the main advantage Chinese startups have over the west. Western media often points to the sheer size of China’s population(which owns 1.1 billion mobile internet devices) for China’s AI success. But what it misses out is that, Depth of data on each user — the real-world activities of Chinese people that are captured in a digital format useful to an A.I. algorithm.

Chinese users use Apps like WeChat to do an astonishing range of real-world activities like buying groceries, book doctor’s appointments, manage their electricity and water utilities, take out microloans. This widespread use of apps in part reflects a “leapfrog effect”: Chinese people never truly adopted credit cards, so they jumped directly to mobile payments; Chinese hospitals never had extensive traditional systems for booking patients, so they are jumping straight to smartphone apps; and so on. Chinese citizens also use their mobile phone to pay for goods 50 times more often than Americans. These kind of data gives multidimensional picture of individual users which could be used by companies to tailor services for each user. (Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/22/opinion/sunday/ai-china-united-states.html )

Total investments towards AI startups(2017) in China was $4.9Bn Dollars whereas it was $4.4Bn Dollars in USA. The interesting fact here is that, only 19 investments contributed to $4.9Bn Dollars in China but it took 155 investments to make it to $4.4Bn dollars in USA.

By 2030 global projected gains from AI would be around $15.7T. In which, China’s contribution would be $7.1T and that of North America’s would be 3.7T. (Source : PWC 2017). Gartner predicts AI will create 2.3 million jobs by 2020 and will eliminate 1.8 million jobs

Research

Share of Research papers submitted by China is increasing while that of USA is decreasing. This clearly indicates seriousness of China towards AI.

China’s Top 5 AI Companies

5 . Ping An- It is a large insurance company which uses Image recognition techniques to assess the car damage during accident. It also uses Image recognition for analysing x-rays, Voice recognition to asses customer mood, and music etc

4. Deephi — Builds Hardware & Micro Chip for AI

3. Cloud walk : CloudWalk is the primary supplier of facial recognition technology to the Bank of China and Haitong Securities. In 2018, CloudWalk signed a deal to provide the government of Zimbabwe with a mass facial recognition system, which will monitor all major transportation hubs, as well as create a national facial ID database.

2. Face ++ — It is pioneering the technologies which is used by mobile payment companies like Ant Financial, which is using its software to let customers pay by scanning their face. It also helps Police to automatically track it’s 1.3Bn citizens and identify them in surveillance footage.

1 Sense time — It is the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence (AI) unicorn focused on computer vision and deep learning. It was founded in Hong Kong with additional offices across China, Singapore, Japan, and the United States. SenseTime independently developed a proprietary deep learning platform, multiple supercomputing centres, and a range of AI technologies such as face recognition, image recognition, object recognition, text recognition, medical image analysis, video analysis, autonomous driving, and remote sensing. It is currently China’s largest AI algorithm provider. (Source : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEx0xUbtiIU)

Some of the other AI technologies developed by Chinese companies

The AI news anchor It was jointly developed by Xinhua News Agency, the official state-run media outlet of China, and Chinese search engine company Sogou.com. The news anchor, based on the latest AI technology, has a male image with a voice, facial expressions and actions of a real person. “He” learns from live broadcasting videos by himself and can read texts as naturally as a professional news anchor.

Alibaba’s Magic mirror — It lets shoppers try on things like sunglasses, cosmetics and apparel virtually. If they like the product, shoppers can make a purchase through Alibaba’s mobile payment service Alipay by scanning the QR code on the screen.

Source : https://si.wsj.net

iFlytec (Edutech startup) — It has built a voice recognition system that helps in Children’s education. The robot can tell stories, teach kids English, recite poetries and do realtime voice translation working presumably as class mate, friend and teacher

Baidu’s Technologies

  1. Duer is a voice-activated assistant, designed to give recommendations and make purchases online. Chinese search giant Baidu added its own AI to a mobile app used by millions of Chinese like Google Now or Siri.
  2. Smart checkout process at airport just with use of facial recognition. It recognises your face and you could simply walk through with hassle free checkout process; this could also help reduce waiting time at Airport.
  3. Little Fish — Unlike “faceless” Amazon Alexa or Google Home devices that rely on people asking for information or controlling devices by speaking, Little Fish also features a touch-screen on top of its base. Baidu showed off Duer’s ability to place orders online with a version of the software embodied in Little Fish.

Role of Government

Mass Surveillance

It is a complex network of surveillance used by Chinese Govt to track and monitor its citizens. In China, mass surveillance mainly comes from the government, though non-publicized corporate surveillance is also a possibility. There are multiple ways in which the Chinese state engages in surveillance, including Internet surveillance, camera surveillance in public, the recent social credit surveillance, and other supporting digital technologies. Chinese mass surveillance has witnessed an increased spending, intensity, and coverage in recent years. There are more than 1.1Bn Internet users in China, and what they can do or cannot do online is strictly regulated.

Source : http://www.followcn.com

With millions of cameras and billions of lines of code, China is building a high-tech authoritarian future. Beijing is embracing technologies like facial recognition and artificial intelligence to identify and track 1.4 billion people. Already, China has an estimated 200 million surveillance cameras — four times as many as the United States.

Defence

From a military perspective, China is using AI to develop a range of unmanned aerial, ground, surface, and underwater vehicles that are becoming increasingly autonomous. It is also attempting to use AI as a way to get around one of its serious military disadvantages — a lack of real conflict experience. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is also focused on the potential of AI in war-gaming, simulations, and realistic training that could help to compensate for its lack of actual combat training ( Source : https://www.wired.co.uk/article/artificial-intelligence-weapons-warfare-project-maven-google-china)

Anyways, China is determined to be an AI leader of the future. Let’s wait and watch what is west’s answer to this !