China’s Quest to become the Leader in field of Artificial Intelligence

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In last 10 years China has emerged as a country which lays great emphasis on integrating existing technology to uniquely local use cases of its citizens. Case of of WeChat being used as the starting access point for all services is a great example of how an existing technology like smartphone messaging can morph into a powerful platform when set in right local context. It has more than 700M users and companies offer their services such as banking, shopping, deals, games, media to its highly engaged and massive user base.

China had also been notoriously famous for copying western technologies and since those western companies couldn’t enter into the country due to its government’s protectionist policies, local players became the de facto standards. But what is emerging as an interesting and yet powerful trend is local chinese tech companies shifting their focus from earlier 1-n copycat models to 0-1 highly innovative technologies. In last 5 years Chinese money has flowed into many tech companies across the world. Now flushed with capital and experience of building technologies for massive user base, ecosystem is maturing to the philosophy of invent rather than copy.

Chinese companies have been major investors in building the emergent Artificial Intelligence field. Companies like Baidu have setup national AI laboratories to propel the field further. Last February, Baidu announced that it had gained approval to establish a national deep learning lab to conduct research in seven areas, including deep learning, computer vision, machine hearing, biometric identification, human-computer interaction, standardized services and intellectual property in deep learning. Some of the country’s top AI scientists, including Lin Yunqing, director of Baidu’s Institute of Deep Learning, Institute of Deep Learning scientist Xu Wei, Tsinghua University professor Zhang Bo and Bei Hang University’s professor Li Wei have joined Baidu’s new lab.

Many analysts have concluded that China can become leader in the field of AI. National People’s Congress released a report in March which singled out AI as one the key area china can really excel in to build local companies which can compete with the likes of Google and IBMs on a world scale. Other than Baidu , Alibaba and Tencent have made a number of investments both locally and globally in AI companies.

New startups like iFlytek( which is building a Siri like conversational AI ) and iCarbonX  ( applying machine learning to healthcare ) are new front runner startups in this domain and are flushed with money. In 2015, the country surpassed the U.S. with the number of published journals related to deep learning, a branch of AI that specializes in teaching machines to learn by themselves, according to the US National Science and Technology Council.

So it is turning out given the availability of capital, affiliation and backing of government and vibrant entrepreneurial tech ecosystem – china has big shot of crossing the deadlock of AI winters and cracking its code. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that spotlight is on Chinese Dragon at the stage of global high tech.

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