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China is Coming for the International AI Sector


China has its eye on becoming the next tech superpower and other nations, including the U.S., may fall behind as the nation quietly increases its AI initiatives from now until 2030.

China is bolstering its AI fleet with robust investments, domestic talent and a desire to dominate the sector in upcoming years.

Today, China and the U.S. remain neck-in-neck for AI efforts, but Beijing’s goal of establishing a $150 billion industry by 2030, coupled with increased AI investments, demonstrates the nation’s desire for moving ahead of the U.S., The Financial Times reported. What’s more, Beijing’s recent AI activity could place China ahead of the pack—as other countries, including the U.S., scale back on their technology funding.

China’s tech-savvy population and budget opens doors for AI growth

China’s AI potential could be attributed to three advantages—a tech-savvy population, data access and a hefty domestic budget.

China’s online population—730 million—is not only double the size of the U.S.’s, but is more familiar with e-commerce and mobile shopping platforms driven by AI applications.

“Mobile [use] in China is light years ahead of anywhere else,” said one tech player to The Financial Times. “So you have a huge experimental lab for exciting AI applications. In China, we see different consumer behaviors every day, in the U.S., it’s a lot slower.”

The nation’s data access also boosts its global AI positioning. China’s data spans multiple AI-driven technologies, including autonomous vehicles and e-commerce sites that provide personalized recommendations for consumers. What’s more, China’s privacy laws are weaker than those in the U.S., since China begins collecting data on its citizens from birth and the nation’s tech tycoons, including Alibaba and Tencent, can access what they buy daily.

Unlike the U.S., China is not cutting back on science and technology funding next year. While U.S. federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), are not increasing their funding next year, China is tapping government and private sector funding to elevate its AI offering.

“The way the government is putting money in is getting smarter and smarter. Before they just gave money to research projects or big SOEs or universities,” Baidu co-founder and co-director at Peking University’s AI Innovation Center, Ming Lei, told The Financial Times. “But now they are more likely to give it to a private company, to one that is more active and can really produce the products and services.”

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(Read more about China’s technology developments: Chinese Factories Ramp Up Spending on Robotics Amid Major Automation Push)

What China is doing to overcome AI challenges

China may have more tech-savvy consumers, better data access and unlimited tech funding, but the nation, which has the second largest AI ecosystem after the U.S., is taking on numerous efforts to step up its AI presence.

China has its sights on becoming the next AI superpower, by improving its national security and increasing its economic presence among other global tech leaders. Despite these goals, a recent LinkedIn survey indicated that China only had 50,000 people working in AI, while the U.S. has 850,000.To remedy this outlook, China, at the government and private sector level, is fronting large amounts of money to lure Chinese citizens, including those that traveled overseas to study and work, back to China to help build it’s AI sector.

The question remains, though, whether China is setting out to dominate the AI sector—or join other nations, including the U.S., in ramping up the international AI landscape. However, there is still concern that China, or consumer tech giants like Amazon and Alibaba, could control and lead AI over the next decade.