Last week, China revealed its plans for artificial intelligence development as a nation; the country intends to pursue a “first-mover advantage” to become the “premier global AI innovation center” by 2030. The Chinese government is determined to aggressively make up any ground lost in recent years in AI innovation by injecting massive research funds into several facets of their industry, valued at $150 billion USD.

While China may be  playing catch up in the AI space against larger North American entities such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and others, they do have some advantages their western counterparts lack.

2 Main Advantages

First is the government commitment mentioned above. Not only is the Chinese government funding this massive developmental boom, they have also attached concrete and aggressive targets to the 2030 plan: catching up to other world powers’ progress by 2020, creating their own major breakthroughs and proprietary advancements by 2025, and finally using those advancements to reach the end goal of being the world’s AI innovation hub by 2030.

The second advantage is data. The nation’s size – 1.4 billion people – produce a wealth of data daily through services which are not easily accessible to the rest of the world. Services such as Tencent’s WeChat, Alibaba Group’s Taobao, and Baidu are collecting vast user data through their platforms and this is granular information available exclusively to Chinese developers.

“It’s not only the quantity, the quality of data in China has also surpassed its rivals,” says Zhijin Xia, partner at Vertex, in the above South China Morning Post article. “Chinese heavily rely on their mobile phones, which generates valuable data about the users.”

While many countries are jockeying for the lead in global AI development, China is working hard at establishing itself as a current industry hub, investing heavily in its future and elevating its ranking amongst the world’s technology scenes.

“AI is so fierce now, you need any competitive advantage you can get. Government support is one of the very helpful things going on in China.” – Matt Scott, cofounder and chief technology officer at Malong. 

The results of these investments are already evident. At the past two ImageNet competitions (a contest where teams are evaluated on the algorithms they create for object detection and image classification at large scale) over half of the top performs were Chinese teams, and 2017’s competition was won by a Chinese team as well.

“AI is so fierce now, you need any competitive advantage you can get,” said Matt Scott, cofounder and chief technology officer at Malong, told Forbes. “Government support is one of the very helpful things going on in China.”

With significant support from government agencies and a wealth of homegrown data at their disposal – China’s 2030 aspirations are ambitious, but achievable.

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