Beijing Wants A.I. to Be Made in China by 2030
By PAUL MOZUR
Jul 20 2017
SHANGHAI — If Beijing has its way, the future of artificial intelligence will be made in China.
The country laid out a development plan on Thursday to become the world leader in A.I. by 2030, aiming to surpass its rivals technologically and build a domestic industry worth almost $150 billion.
Released by the State Council, the policy is a statement of intent from the top rungs of China’s government: The world’s second-largest economy will be investing heavily to ensure its companies, government and military leap to the front of the pack in a technology many think will one day form the basis of computing.
The plan comes with China preparing a multibillion-dollar national investment initiative to support “moonshot” projects, start-ups and academic research in A.I., according to two professors who consulted with the government about the effort.
The United States, meanwhile, has cut back on science funding. In budget proposals, the Trump administration has suggested slashing resources for a number of agencies that have traditionally backed research in A.I. Other cuts, to areas like high-performance computing, would affect the development of the tools that make A.I. work.
China’s capabilities, especially in advanced and new technologies, have long lagged those of its better developed neighbors as well as Europe and America. But a multiple-decade industrial policy to help it catch up has paid dividends.
A.I. is one of a growing number of disciplines in which experts say China is making quick progress.
Yet it was a foreign feat of A.I. prowess that provided one of the greatest impetuses for the new plan.
The two professors who consulted with the government on A.I. both said that the 2016 defeat of Lee Se-dol, a South Korean master of the board game Go, by Google’s AlphaGo had a profound impact on politicians in China. Then in May, Google brought AlphaGo to China, where it defeated the world’s top-ranked player, Ke Jie of China. Live video coverage of the event was blocked at the last minute in China.
As a sort of Sputnik moment for China, the professors said, the event paved the way for a new flow of funds into the discipline.
China’s ambitions with A.I. range from the anodyne to the dystopian, according to the new plan. It calls for support for everything from agriculture and medicine to manufacturing.
Yet it also calls for the technology to work in concert with the country’s homeland security and surveillance efforts. China wants to integrate A.I. into guided missiles, use it to track people on closed-circuit cameras, censor the internet and even predict crimes.