China aiming to be global leader in AI research

When the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence(AAAI) announced their meeting was in New Orleans in late January, Chinese AI experts had enough influence to get the date changed to February in San Francisco instead.

The earlier date conflicted with Chinese New Year. 2017 could be the year that China is able to solidify its lead in Artificial Intelligence (AI) according to a Technode article. There are still top-level AI experts from North America and the U.K. and other countries but over 40 percent of leading AI research papers globally are published in Chinese. The Chinese experts have the advantage of speaking both English and Chinese giving them access to a much wider pool of research. This language asymmetry may be part of the reason that the Chinese are coming to dominate the field. Many North American and European researchers simply cannot read the Chinese papers.
However, the Chinese government has also helped the AI field grow by increased spending on AI as Technode reports:Moreover, Chinese government’s full support and investment has been the major fuel for the growth of the field. The government spending on science and technology research doubled its digits every year for the past decade, as outlined by the 2015-2020 Five-Year Plan. According to the plan, which contains little concrete details on the exact numbers and measures but a long list of priorities instead, Beijing promises to increase its R&D investment for 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product, compared with 2.05 percent in 2014.
The government plans to become a global leader in AI. The Chinese National Development and Reform Commission has just recently approved a plan that will set up a national artificial intelligence lab for researching deep learning technologies. Top Chinese tech companies such as Baidu are betting on AI and Baidu will be in charge of the planned lab with elite universities such as the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and other Chinese research institutions being involved as well. Wikipedia describes Baidu as: "Baidu, Inc. (Chinese: 百度; pinyin: Bǎidù, anglicized /ˈbaɪduː/ "BY-doo"), incorporated on 18 January 2000, is a Chinese web services company headquartered at the Baidu Campus in Beijing's Haidian District. It is one of the largest Internet companies in the world."
The new lab will pursue research in seven major fields including: machine learning-based visual recognition, voice recognition and new types of human-machine interaction. The lab will be run by Lin Yuanging chief of the Baidu deep learning institute and scientist Xu Wei along with Zhang Bo and Li Wei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. While the goal of the lab is to enhance efficiency and boost China's overall competence in AI it is also specifically attempting to design a machine that will mimic the decision-making processes in the human brain. Yu Kai,former head of Baidu's deep learning institute said: “As an open platform itself, the national lab will help more Chinese researchers, companies, and universities to access the most advanced AI technologies in China.”
The case of Soren Schwertfeger, who just finished post-doctoral research on autonomous robots in Germany illustrates how attractive China is to developing researchers. At first he thought he would continue his work in Europe or the U.S. where AI was first pioneered and then established. He ended up going to China. Schwertfeger claimed that he could not start a lab like his elsewhere. While some think that China is already in the lead other experts believe that China is just behind the U.S. Numerous provinces and cities are spending billions on developing robotics. The state hopes that AI will help China predict crimes, track people, alleviate traffic jams, create self-guided missiles and even censor the Internet.
Ironically, China is boosting spending on AI just as the U.S. Trump administration appears to be planning to cut back such spending. A recent Trump administration budget proposal includes greatly reduced funding for many government agencies including some that have traditionally backed AI. James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said: "It's a race in the new generation of computing. The difference is that China seems to think it's a race and America doesn't."
Schwertfeger could hardly turn down China. He was offered a grant that was six times what he could get in Europe or the U.S. He was able to set up a full artificial intelligence lab with an assistant, a technician, and also a group of Ph.D students. Schwertfeger said: "It's almost impossible for assistant professors to get this much money. The research funding is shrinking in the U.S. and Europe. But it is definitely expanding in China." His lab will work on ways in which machines can avoid obstacles. The lab will improve the abilities of robots to find objects such as people during search and rescue operations. With the vast amounts of money China is putting into AI it may have won the race to be first in AI before the EU and U.S., who developed AI in the first place, realize there even is one.

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