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China looks to wide application of artificial intelligence

Updated: Apr 10,2017 7:25 AM     Xinhua

BEIJING — China has great potential in applications of artificial intelligence (AI), a senior official said on April 9.

“Chinese researchers and entrepreneurs are among the best in the world, with technological innovations and good earnings in the sector,” said Liu Lihua, vice minister of industry and information technology.

Researchers with Chinese companies such as iFlytek, Alibaba and Baidu participated in the study of the world’s leading AI technologies, said Liu, referring to technologies of reinforcement learning, paying with your face and self-driving trucks.

A couple of weeks ago, the “MIT Technology Review” listed the above three and another seven technologies as its 10 breakthrough technologies in 2017.

AI research started more than 60 years ago and there have been some major ups and downs. The current wave is backed by unprecedented quantities of data and computing power.

“While we are just getting started, we have made prominent progress in applying artificial intelligence in smart city and intelligent customer service on automobiles,” said Liu.

More sectors will see AI applications in the future, he added.

Chinese Internet giants are focusing on the development of artificial intelligence and believe the next decades will be a golden age for the industry.

“If we define 2016 as the first year of China’s artificial intelligence, this year will be the beginning of applications of artificial intelligence in the country,” said Liu Qingfeng, board chairman of tech firm iFlytek Co. Ltd.

Internet giant Baidu set up a national deep learning technology lab in Beijing in March. The lab gathered AI experts from Baidu, Tsinghua University, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

“The Internet is just an appetizer. The main course will be AI. In the future, machines will develop to a point where they can understand humans and their intentions,” said Li Yanhong, chair of Baidu, at the China IT Summit in Shenzhen on April 2.

Baidu has invested heavily in machine-aided study, image recognition, voice recognition and driverless vehicles.

Another tech giant Xiaomi set up an “Explorer’s Lab” last year to research artificial intelligence and will release an “exciting AI product” in the coming six months, according to Lei Jun, founder and CEO of Xiaomi.

“Companies in emerging markets need to offer their consumers a compelling vision so that they not only resolve problems today, but even address problems on the horizon,” Lei said.

China will make greater efforts this year to implement innovation-driven development strategy, upgrade the structure of the real economy, and improve its performance and competitiveness, according to the government work report issued last month.

“We will accelerate R&D on and commercialization of new materials, artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, bio-pharmacy, 5G mobile communications, and other technologies, and develop industrial clusters in these fields,” the report read.

In May last year, the government made a three-year action plan to develop AI.

The industry’s market size was 23.9 billion yuan (about $3.5 billion) last year, and will reach 38 billion yuan (about $5.5 billion) in 2018, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

“As the AI era approaches, we should focus on technological innovation, establish industry standards and specifications, forge an industrial ecosystem, and speed up legislation in the sector,” said iFlytek’s Liu.