China's 2030 plan envisions building a $1 trillion A.I. industry.
Investors poured $4.5 billion into more than 200 Chinese A.I. companies between 2012 and 2017.
The biggest A.I. venture deal ever was completed last month when Alibaba led a $600 million deal for China-based facial-recognition start-up SenseTime.
As U.S. and Chinese officials engage in highly anticipated trade talks, officials from China have asserted that it will not discuss two of the biggest trade demands from the United States. One is about the U.S. trade deficit; the other is an issue that could become the greatest technology war in history: China's push into artificial intelligence.
The United States has good reason to be concerned about China's hard stance. While the ongoing trade war is grabbing all the headlines, it's the tussle for dominance in the A.I. space that could shape the economic fortunes of the two world powers. Overshadowed by the dazzling A.I. advances made by the United States so far, China has been silently but resolutely building an ecosystem that is feeding and fueling its ambition to become a world leader in A.I. by 2030.
Home to tech behemoths like Google, Microsoft, IBM and Apple, the United States is where the bulk of A.I. innovation has taken place. However, there are growing indications that China, with its own army of tech heavy hitters such as Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu, is moving rapidly to close the gap. For one, the Asian economic giant has all the ingredients it needs to upstage Silicon Valley: generous government coffers, large population, a thriving research community and a society eager for technological change. Its investment in A.I., chips and electrics cars combined has been estimated at $300 billion.
In line with its 2030 vision, the government of Tianjin, a city a couple of hours from Beijing, plans to build a $5 billion fund to support the A.I. development. Money being no object, China is also building a giant $2.1 billion technology park to facilitate A.I. innovation. In a red-hot market for tech, China's A.I. start-ups can raise funds with relative ease. Investors poured $4.5 billion into more than 200 Chinese A.I. companies between 2012 and 2017, according to a white paper produced by Kai-Fu Lee, a former Google and Microsoft executive who now leads a venture-capital firm, Sinovation Ventures.
China's goal is to foster a $1 trillion A.I. industry by 2030. Last month Chinese A.I. start-up SenseTime raised $600 million in a deal led by Alibaba, reported as the largest-ever in the A.I. space. The deal gave SenseTime an implied valuation in some reports of more than $3 billion, or even as high as $4.5 billion.
"SenseTime is the perfect case study in the difference between Chinese and Western technological development," wrote Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research, in a recent report. "Artificial intelligence, and especially the A.I. that powers visual analytics, is a critical technology for a raft of new products. The Western companies have their own advantages, to be sure. But the Chinese model of government sponsorship and private capital is coming on very strong. SenseTime may be the hit investment of the moment coming out of this approach, but it certainly won't be the last."
US research sector could struggle
By contrast, the U.S. research sector could be struggling for funding and policy support under the Trump administration. The American Association for the Advancement of Science said the White House planned to slash science and technology research funding by 15 percent in 2018. Worse, with the recent immigration clampdown, the United States may soon be struggling to attract and retain highly skilled tech experts from around the world that it needs to keep Silicon Valley at the cutting edge of A.I. research and innovation.
There are indications America's grasp of A.I. primacy may already be slipping. According to the White House's National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan in A.I. research, China had already surpassed the United States, at least in terms of journal articles that mention "deep learning" or "deep neural network," as far back as 2016.
"Sadly, when it comes to science and innovation, the U.S. is moving in reverse by cutting funding for research, denying climate change and cutting investments in education," said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering and author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future.
U.S. leaders do not appear to be aware of A.I. developments, said Joshua Gans, business professor at the University of Toronto and co-author of Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence. "President Obama discussed it [AI] on numerous occasions," he said. "[Research funding cuts] is obviously bad news in terms of its ability to nurture scientific leadership. It is shortsighted and will harm the U.S. in the medium-long term."
China's timeline for global A.I. supremacy by 2030 may appear a tad overambitious, but opinions are divided as to whether it's achievable.
Wadhwa, for one, feels China has many obstacles. "Governments can't make innovation by throwing money at it — this only leads to more corruption and bureaucracy," he said. "Innovation comes from people who have diverse ideas, take risks and challenge authority."
Wadhwa's reservation contrasts with the conviction of William Weightman, a Fulbright Fellow researching intellectual property law in China. "While 12 years seems like a short amount of time to achieve such an ambitious target, it's not outside China's scope," said Weightman. "The world should not underestimate China's ability to mobilize a vast amount of resources to accomplish its goals."
He used the example of the first high-speed rail line connecting Beijing and Tianjin, which was completed just in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "Between the vast amount of state resources and the determination of the central leadership, China has a solid foundation on which to build an innovative A.I. sector," Weightman said.
China's potential advantages are many
China's demographics give it an unmatched advantage. The Asian giant has large consumer data (which fuels A.I.), scant regulation restricting the use of it, a supportive government both in terms of policy and funding, a population not overly concerned about privacy and a vigorous tech start-up culture that now boasts one-third of the world's unicorns — start-ups valued at $1 billion or more.
Wadhwa conceded China clearly had an advantage in data, the key to training today's A.I., but said its importance may be overstated. "There will be a new generation of technologies that don't require as much data," he said. "New A.I. techniques which [will] work much differently than today's."
It may also turn out that other things are more important than data, like a culture of innovation and scientific research. And while there is uncertainty around government support for scientific research, "the U.S. still has the most vibrant innovative economy," Gans said. "It also has leadership in science on this front, and if it can nurture that, it can compete."
China still trails the United States in areas such as A.I. research talent and algorithm development, according to Weightman. 作者: KT88 時間: 2018-7-15 05:56
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