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Strengthening AI R&D Among China’s 2018 Innovation Goals

In his address to the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing on March 5, Chinese Premier Keqiang Li delivered this year’s official government work report, identifying “reinforcing the new generation of artificial intelligence research and development” among the state’s innovation focuses for 2018.

Premier Li provided a three-part overview of government work, including a review of the past five years, policy direction for this year’s socioeconomic development, and suggestions for upcoming government work in 2018. The report’s keywords include “artificial intelligence” along with “agricultural supply-side structural reform,” “shared economy,” “digital healthcare,” and “fintech.”

Premier Li noted that in the past five years China’s GDP has increased from USD 8.64 trillion (CNY 54 trillion) to USD 13.2 trillion (CNY 82.7 trillion), with an average annual increase of 7.1%. National GDP now accounts for 15% of the global economy and more than 30% of global economic growth. There have also been major changes in economic structure, with high-tech manufacturing growing at an average annual rate of 11.7%.

Premier Li said that in 2018 China will expedite upgrading “from older to newer generation” technologies, further deploy “internet+” technologies, promote the widespread application of big data, cloud computing, and IoT.” China will also continue its “Made in China 2025” initiative in order to “strengthen industrial infrastructure, smart and green manufacturing; and advance the speedy development of manufacturing.”

Three days before Premier Li’s address, elected CPPCC members who are also AI industry leaders held a press conference.

Baidu CEO Robin Li pledged, “AI will drive China’s economic development for the next 20–50 years.” He proposed encouraging enterprises to opensource their AI platforms to strengthen the application of new technologies, and taking the lead on self-driving car policymaking. He also recommended the government introduce additional AI policy incentives

Speaking at the same press conference, Tencent CEO Pony Ma said “since AlphaGo, people have come to realize the power of deep learning. Many deep learning applications are perfectly feasible now. Tencent’s backends are supported by AI technologies like targeted advertising and personalized content recommendation, only users are not really aware of them.” He added that “artificial general intelligence may be far away, but there are many opportunities in vertical applications.”

Lenovo Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing introduced a proposal to develop artificial intelligence for industrial applications, comparing AI to water droplets permeating all industries, and pointing out the importance of setting early benchmarks and building platforms.

The term “AI” first appeared in Chinese government statements in the July 2015 State Council document “Guiding Opinions on Promoting ‘Internet+’ Initiatives.” In March 2016 “artificial intelligence” appeared in the outline of the “13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development”.

In April 2016 Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, National Development and Reform Commission, and Ministry of Finance jointly issued the “Robotic Industry Development Plan (2016–2020).” The following month the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and the Ministries and Commissions of the Central Network Information Office jointly released the “Internet+ Artificial Intelligence Three Year Implementation Plan.”

“Artificial intelligence” also appeared in last year’s official government work report, and last July the State Council formally issued the “New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Development Plan,” lifting AI to the level of national strategy.

Earlier this month the Chinese government released its “Artificial Intelligence Standardization White Paper”. The 98-page document was edited by the China Electronics Standardization Institute under the guidance of the National Standardization Management Committee Second Ministry of Industry.

On the same day as Premier Li’s address, the University of Nanjing announced the formation of its new Artificial Intelligence Institute. This becomes the third such institute in the country, joining the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Xidian University.

Journalist: Meghan Han| Editor: Michael Sarazen

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