Artificial Intelligence in China is not the future – it’s the present

The age of Artificial Intelligence in China has arrived. It is here, it is now and it is asking for more. The demand for talent is so high that the government had to push universities to promote AI education. Will the present generation, and the next, be able to match this drive is something that does seem possible, but the industry is growing and its appetite for human resource is voracious.

AI + X is an interdisciplinary approach being encouraged in universities to integrate AI with subjects like physics, sociology, psychology, biology, and mathematics among others. Dedicated AI departments have been introduced from Jilin to Nanjing and some universities are even collaborating with private companies to train their students. Apart from being teaching institutions, universities are also cradles of research and thus the vanguards of AI.

The industry itself is presenting a progressive outlook. Over 4,000 firms in China today are AI-based and the government is looking for the business to exceed 1 trillion yuan by 2030. The capital Beijing with its entrepreneurial atmosphere is emerging as an AI hub. According to data from Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology (BMCEIT), the city hosts more than 1,070 AI companies which is 26 percent of the country’s count. 1,237 AI companies from around China have acquired venture investments and 431 out of these, or 35 percent, are from Beijing.

Rokid, a well-funded startup from Hangzhou, is ready to mass produce its custom AI chip for voice recognition and is planning to create China’s first AI Operating System. The country’s largest carmaker, SAIC Motor, is also it’s first to launch an in-house AI lab. While focusing on cloud computing, big data, and business application, the Shanghai-headquartered company aims to put smart technology to use in automobile production, automobile products, rental service, and logistics.

Kunlun might be a famous mountain range in western China but it is the name of Baidu’s indigenous cloud-to-edge AI chip as well, which according to it’s CEO, has a computational capability 30 times faster than the latest field-programmable gate array based AI accelerator. Baidu Brain is another ambitious project by the tech giant, adding a human touch in machines to enable them to see, hear and understand better.

China’s extensive use of AI in the medical field is easing load from hospitals and improving skills of doctors. Alibaba in Shanghai, for instance, is not only using data for patient prediction and doctor allocation, but in Zhejiang it is developing AI-based diagnosis tools to analyze CT scans and MRIs. In a country where more than 2.7 million people give in to cancer each year, Tencent is developing Miying – an AI clinical diagnostic system which learns from big data, examines endoscopy images and gives feedback in 4 seconds with an accuracy reaching as high as 90 percent.

Pitched against AI last month, experienced physicians were seen at a neuroimaging contest in Beijing. In the two rounds of diagnosing brain tumors and predicting hematoma expansion, an AI system named BioMind scored a clear 2:0 win. This does not mean AI will one day be replacing the human doctor. Instead, it will only act how GPS does for a driver today.

AI companies are proving immensely helpful to the government in ensuring public security. SenseTime, a valuable start-up, has installed vision and image recognition systems at multiple airports and railway stations. A high-tech enterprise, CloudWalk Technology, has engaged with authorities in the mega Skynet Project to identify pedestrians and vehicles, worked with 23 provinces and helped arrest almost 2,600 suspects. Hikvision, another producer of AI-powered systems and front-end cameras, also partners with local governments to provide facial recognition and big data analysis.

2018 is a good year for AI enthusiasts in China. Smart China Expo planned for August in the Chongqing municipality is expecting to “accelerate the development of China’s AI industry”. The event will be marked with competitions, exhibitions and thematic activities aimed at integration of internet and big data. Later in September, Shanghai will host AI World 2018 conference with the theme of “New Era of Artificial Intelligence”. Special activities to boost investment and research are planned for the event. The city’s deputy mayor believes that local AI industry will develop after further improvement of intellectual property protection.

Since the State Council issued an AI development plan last year, China’s rapidly developing tech industry is fueling the massive growth of this new age technology. Latest privacy standards adopted in May and a new cybersecurity law are some of the measures taken to regulate its growth. While there are no reports of any large-scale data leak in the country, citizens’ find their confidence in AI improving with major players intending to provide open source access to their platforms.