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China’s drive likely to make AI ‘OS of future’

Updated: Aug 28,2017 9:12 AM     Xinhua

SYDNEY — Around the world, the shift toward a more autonomous future has been heralded by some as the harbinger of end times, while others are adamant that the sentient computer-driven revolution will usher in a new era of technological progress — the likes of which have never been seen in human history, let alone imagined.

As countries and companies race to be at the forefront of this new technological sector of discovery, one scientist believes that China is extremely well-placed to benefit from the exciting future that artificial intelligence or AI has to offer the world.

Toby Walsh, a professor of artificial intelligence at Australia’s University of New South Wales, spoke to media recently at his fully purposed robot lab on campus and said that with the current shift toward a consumption-driven economy, the stage is set for China to benefit immensely from the AI revolution.

“China is making a very sensible bet here on AI. It is very well placed to take advantage of the coming AI revolution. It has a lot of data, it has lots of big tech companies which are well positioned to develop,” Walsh said.

“It is making very strong bets in this area, so I imagine that China is going to do very well out of this revolution.”

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, has announced the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Plan that will see the country take steps to become a global innovation center in this field.

AI has already begun to manifest itself in ways which most people do not realize, and Walsh said that it has been happening as a gradual process and will continue to do so, albeit at a somewhat faster pace as the technology improves and develops.

“AI is becoming more and more widespread in our lives, people don’t realize it’s there. Every time you speak to your smartphone, every time you get a product recommendation, every time you use the satellite navigation system in your car, you are using a bit of AI,” Walsh said.

“Eventually, it will become like electricity, it will be everywhere. In every room, in every car, in every device, we will be using AI — it will be the operating system (or OS) of the future.”

China’s role in the AI sphere is also comforting to Walsh, who said that he feels worried that the benefits of the rapid advancements in technology that will be made, will potentially be too isolated as they are often “winner take all markets” driven by the network effects of the technology.

“There’s only one search engine on the planet — Google — outside of China. There’s only one social media network on the planet — Facebook — outside of China. There’s only one tweet-messaging service on the planet — Twitter — outside of China,” Walsh said.

“The reason that China has had the good sense to protect its own market is that they then have some competition, and if we don’t do enough, there will be so much power, so much wealth, concentrated in the hands of a few corporations that they will be wealthier than countries, and they are not answerable like countries to the people.”

As China continues to make rapid advancements in the AI field and continues to invest heavily in the research and development of this emerging technology, recent studies show that China is poised to become and possibly surpass all others in the pursuit of AI technological eminence.

A recent McKinsey Global Institute report suggested that China will be able to deploy AI technology successfully due to its “wide range of industries proving a fertile market for deployment”. In addition, China could also potentially broaden the scope from the domestic level to a more international approach.

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to fundamentally shape our society for many decades to come. It is a uniquely powerful tool that China can deploy to boost its productivity and maintain its growth trajectory,” the report said.

“The technology industry is becoming increasingly global. China has the capability and opportunity to lead international collaboration in the development and governance of AI.”