China is ramping up efforts to drive AI development

Tagging artificial intelligence as an important focus for the country, the Chinese government plans to step up efforts in research and development, including the establishment of regional AI industrial hubs.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
Iflytek AI Experience Hall In Hangzhou

Iflytek AI Experience Hall In Hangzhou 

CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

China is ramping up efforts to drive the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and calling for global collaborators to participate.

The Chinese government this week unveiled plans to build AI industrial hubs and tech platforms across the country to support research and development work. 

To date, development plans have been launched for 18 national AI pilot areas and 32 innovation platforms, including in Beijing and Tianjin, according to a report by state-owned publication Global Times

China believes AI is essential to improving productivity and public wellbeing as well as industry transformation, said Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhigang, who was speaking Thursday at the 7th World Intelligence Conference in Tianjin. 

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The nationwide AI platforms would help deepen integration of research and application, Wang said, but gave no further details on these new infrastructures. 

He noted, though, that the government was conscious of the potential risks and existing challenges AI faced, such as fragmented underlying algorithms, lack of quality data, and inefficient AI models. There also were concerns about personal privacy and public safety, and its impact on education and employment

He said the Beijing administration had made efforts to address such issues, which included advocating the development of ethical and responsible AI. Guidelines, for instance, were published on AI ethical norms.

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China last month also released draft legislation on the development of generative AI technologies, such as ChatGPT, which it said could lead to abuse if left unregulated. Under the proposed rules, for instance, operators will be required to send their applications to regulators for "safety reviews" before offering the services to the public.

Wang further called on local companies to work with research and education institutions to drive AI advancements that could contribute to China's economic and societal growth. 

The minister also called for global collaborators to help address challenges related to AI, specifically, in the areas of data privacy, public security, and employment. 

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Touting China's investment in AI development, he said the country led in several areas last year, including patent submissions and technology advancements, such as voice recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing. 

China in 2022 had the world's largest number of AI patent applications and the most number of published academic papers and citations, according to state-owned media China Daily, which cited stats from Ministry of Science and Technology. The country's core AI sectors topped 500 billion yuan ($71.85 billion), with more than 4,200 market players contributing about 16% of the world's total.

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The Chinese government as early as 2017 had earmarked AI as a key growth area, releasing a blueprint with the aim to lead the world in AI by 2030. It had identified 17 technology areas as AI development priorities, including intelligent vehicles, intelligent drones, and neural network chips.

It also wants its judicial sector to be supported by an AI infrastructure by 2025, with a directive to drive integration of the technology with judicial work and enhance legal services. In addition, a national supercomputing framework is expected to be in place by end-2025 to drive the country's digital plans and the development of emerging technologies, including AI. 

Local players including Tencent and Alibaba already are offering or integrating generative AI models into their products.

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Apart from its draft laws on generative AI, China has introduced other regulations related to AI. For example, legislation came into effect this January that laid out ground rules to prevent "deep synthesis" technology, including deepfakes and virtual reality, from being abused. Anyone using these services must label the images accordingly and refrain from tapping the technology for activities that breach local regulations. 

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