Artificial intelligence industry in China

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In 2018, China's artificial intelligence industry lags behind that of the United States, both in terms of technological and theoretical development. However, in 2017 China issued a plan to become the global leader in artificial intelligence by 2030.

Current industry and academia[edit]

China is home to several major AI-centric companies, including Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba. China is also home to countless startups related to the development of AI. SenseTime, founded in 2014 by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, produces computer vision technology for large Chinese companies such as China Mobile and Peking University introduced the first academic course on AI in 2004, leading many other Chinese universities to adopt AI as a discipline.[1]

Comparisons with the West[edit]

The gap between China's AI industry and that of the United States is closing fast in terms of private investment, patents, and publications [1]. Many AI experts have speculated that China will struggle to recruit experts in the field [1]. However, China also boasts of some advantages which could prove to be critical. China has a strong precedent of government investment leading to industrial development. Further, fewer regulations hinder data collection and usage in China, which has proven to be advantageous in the realm of facial recognition [2]. In summary, China benefits from stronger government dedication to the industry and fewer obstacles related to privacy and data integrity.

In April 2018, CNN noted that the two AI startups with the highest evaluation, SenseTime (4.5 billion USD) and Yitu Technology (2.4 billion USD), are both Chinese.[3][4]

New generation of artificial intelligence development plan[edit]

China's State Council issued the "A Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan" (State Council Document [2017] No. 35) on July 8, 2017, in which the CCP Central Committee and the State Council urge the governing bodies of China to promote the development of artificial intelligence. The State Council predicts that China will become a world-leader in artificial intelligence by 2030. Specifically, the State Council plans to spend $2.1 billion on an AI industrial park in Mentougou district [1]. In order to achieve this end, the State Council states the need for massive talent acquisition, theoretical and practical developments, and public and private investments. In the document, the State Council lists myriad sectors open to the future influence of artificial intelligence, including transportation, healthcare, environmental protection, national security, social governance, and education. Throughout the document, the State Council emphasizes the need for focus on the ethics of artificial intelligence. [5]


The State Council cites many motivating factors in their desire to become a global leader in artificial intelligence. Primarily, the State Council focuses on the potential for industrial growth and transformation. The State Council recognizes that "AI has become the core driving force for a new round of industrial transformation."[5] Many of their motivating factors resemble those of the West -- industry and national security, as well as "education, medical care, pensions, environmental protection, urban operations, judicial services, and other fields."[5] However, the State Council also alludes to motivating factors that do not resemble those of the West. The State Council details the potential of artificial intelligence to "grasp group cognition and psychological changes in a timely manner... elevate the capability and level of social governance... maintain social stability." [5]

Relative advantages and disadvantages[edit]

The State Council acknowledges several relative advantages and disadvantages with regard to AI innovation potential, when compared to the West.


The State Council cites preceding development plans, such as the National Key Research and Development Plan, Internet +, and AI Three-Year Activities and Implementation Program as evidence of forthcoming success. The State Council draws attention to the fact that China is "leading the world in voice recognition and visual recognition technologies."[5] Further, they note that China is second in the world in international publications and patents in the domain of artificial intelligence. Instructing their audience to "fully give play to the advantages of the socialist system," the State Council claims that the greater levels of central coordination will allow them to more efficiently make advancements in such a complex industry.[5] Developments in AI will require a collaboration between the regulatory bodies, private enterprises, educational institutions, and military researchers, so they make a valid point with their claim.


The State Council acknowledges that China is not quite at the level of developed countries (particularly the United States) with regard to AI development. They admit that China is "lacking major original results in basic theory, core algorithms, key equipment, high-end chips, major products and systems. foundational materials, components, software and interfaces, etc." [5]


The State Council reports three general milestones for their integration of artificial intelligence into their industrial economy.


By 2020, China expects to be "in step with globally advanced levels" of artificial intelligence theoretical and technological development. The State Council foresees that by this time "AI technology applications will have become a new way to improve people's livelihoods." The State Council predicts that China will have contributed globally to hardware, software, and methods pertinent to artificial intelligence. Specifically, the State Council projects the value of AI core industry in China to be worth 150 billion RMB, with a value of over 1 trillion RMB when accounting for related industries.[5]


By 2025, the State Council aims for China to have fundamentally contributed to basic AI theory, solidifying its place as a global leader in AI research. Further, the State Council aims that "AI becomes the main driving force for China's industrial upgrading and economic transformation" by this time. The State Council projects the value of AI core industry in China to be worth 400 billion RMB, with a value of over 5 trillion RMB when accounting for related industries.[5]


By this time, the State Council targets China to be the global leader in the development of artificial intelligence theory and technology. The State Council claims that China will have developed a "mature new-generation AI theory and technology system." At this point, the State Council projects the value of AI core industry to be worth 1 trillion RMB, with a value of over 10 trillion RMB when accounting for related industries.[5]

Talent acquisition[edit]

The State Council recognizes that talent acquisition is arguably the most crucial endeavor in bolstering its AI industry. The State Council wishes to produce individuals capable of reasoning about the whole spectrum of AI development, including components such as basic theory, application, and product development. The State Council states a desire to solidify AI as a discipline, and formalize its treatment in universities. Further, they plan on constructing "national AI industrial parks." They even go so far as to suggest AI-related courses in primary and secondary schools. Extending upon educational infrastructure, the State Council aims to provide "AI 'hackerspaces'" and "entrepreneurial service agencies" dedicated to AI.[5]

Ethical considerations[edit]

The State Council emphasized the importance of ethics in AI development. In each of their three milestones (2020, 2025, and 2030), the State Council includes a specific goal related to the development of research into or enforcement of AI-related ethics. Despite the fear of many Westerners that the Chinese will disregard privacy concerns and other data-related rights infringements, the State Council states its wishes to "increase disciplinary efforts aimed at the abuse of data, violations of personal privacy, and actions contrary to moral ethics." In the short term, the State Council aims to look into AI's effects on employment, while it aims to look into AI's effects on social ethics in the long term.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Cyranoski, David (January 17, 2018). "China enters the battle for AI talent". Nature. 553 (7688): 260-261. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-00604-6. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  2. ^ Knight, Will (October 10, 2017). "China's AI Awakening". Technology Review. MIT. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  3. ^ Pham, Sherisse (2018). "Chinese AI startup dwarfs global rivals with $4.5 billion valuation". CNNMoney. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  4. ^ "The Complete List of Unicorn Companies". CB Insights. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "State Council Notice on the Issuance of the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan" (PDF). New America. Retrieved April 2, 2018.