China Bets Big on AI: Summary of Central Government Policies
In a macro level, AI serves as the underpinning of China's technology, economy, society and national defense, to improve productivity, social efficiency and national security.
Artificial Intelligence has undoubtedly become one of China's national strategy in the past few years. As a result, political trend could affect this sector from many different levels.
Though government officials do not possess the sharpest acumen to cutting-edge technologies, they always manage to keep up with the trend. As the government striving to achieve its strategic progress, it directs capital and labors towards some suitable directions.
To understand China's AI performance, it's important to learn the central government regulations and policies. Chinese central leadership guidelines largely influence and direct local governments who plan for the upcoming budget, related taxes, regulations and assistance to guide businesses.
Takeaways from the policy text:
- The Chinese government considers AI as a very comprehensive technology innovation system, with foci ranging from big data, advanced machine learning, AR/VR, autonomous control, brain science, to quantum computing.
-In a macro level, AI serves as the underpinning of China's technology, economy, society and national defense, to improve productivity, social efficiency and national security.
- The government often talks about AI emerging industry and the related industry together when it comes to commercialization.
- Leading Internet giants are the most powerful AI drivers who create national new-generation AI open platforms to aid innovation to small to medium projects.
- Central policy on AI start with manufacturing and consistently emphasizing robotics and industry upgrade.
- 2019's topic is deepening integration of AI and real economy.
Recent central government policies on AI
It is generally known that China has an intelligent dream since 2015 when China's 2025 policy was announced by the central government. The roughly defined AI at that time was to assist the manufacturing sector in digitalization and intelligent upgrade.
In 2016, the State Council of China marked AI in "'Internet Plus' and AI Three Year Implementation Plan" (“互联网+”人工智能三年行动实施方案). This was a follow up to the "Guidelines of Internet Plus Initiative" (关于积极推进“互联网+”行动的指导意见) which inspires Internet-related startups and encourages internet adoption in manufacturing, agriculture, energy, financial services, citizen services, logistics, E-commerce, environment protection and Artificial Intelligence. Putting AI as the last of these 11 areas, the government aims to accelerate core AI technology development based on Internet platforms.
This 2016 implementation plan is a more detailed explanation and a practical plan to the previous guideline. Considering AI as an emerging industry, the document proposes computer vision, smart audio processing, biometrics, natural language processing, smart decision control and human-machine interaction to be the key technology. Back then, the central government combined internet with AI, in order to promote the applicability of this growing technology in home, auto, unmanned systems and security areas, and to test its capability in manufacturing, education, environment, transportation, business, healthcare, cybersecurity and social governance.
In the document, it is clearly stated approaches in supporting the technology development, including encouraging multi-channel funding support, building standards, protecting intellectual property, fostering talents, enhancing international cooperation, and creating implementation mechanism.
AI officially became a national strategy one year later. In July 2017, the State Council of PRC released "New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan"(新一代人工智能发展规划), which formed the fundamentals of China's AI strategy.
This policy outlines a three-stage goal: 1) to build a CNY 150 billion (USD 22 billion) worth core AI industry and CNY 1 trillion (USD 150 billion) AI-related Industry, targeting at the level same as leading countries by 2020, 2) CNY 400 billion (USD 60 billion) worth industry and CNY 5 trillion (USD 754 billion) related industry achieving an important breakthrough in AI fundamental theory by 2025, and 3) CNY 1 trillion (USD 150 billion) AI industry and CNY 10 trillion (USD 1.5 trillion) related industries becoming the global leading innovation power for AI by 2030. Without precise definition, it could be considered that AI core technologies are those all-encompassing ones while AI-related industries refer to applications to specific industries.
Moreover, the major tasks listed by new-generation AI plan shows a better-defined scope of central-defined AI, despite its fuzzy characteristics.
Based on the new generation plan, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and Ministry of Education published detailed action plans in 2017 and 2018.
MIIT's 2017 Action Plan indicates four major directions including 17 product areas. First, promoting scalability of key products including smart connected cars, smart service robots, smart unmanned aerial vehicles, AI-assisted medical image diagnosis system, image recognition, smart audio interaction, intelligent translation system, and smart home products. Second, focusing on the development of smart sensor, neural net chips and open-source platforms, the weakness in China's AI value chain. Third, deepening AI in manufacturing upgrade, in both technology and corporate mode. Last, providing a supportive development system by constructing industry training resource base, testing standard & intellectual property, network infrastructure and security public support.
Besides, MIIT initiated new-generation AI national projects by the end of 2017, launching four open platforms backed by Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and iFLYTEK based on which developers are encouraged to build their applications. In 2018, SenseTime was appointed to be the fifth national AI open platform specializing in computer vision.
The 2018 education ministry Action Plan sets goals for AI research and education, showing the emphasis on AI talents. It aims to optimize research innovation systems in fundamental theorems, enhance multidisciplinary, multi-level AI education, and promote technology applications in education, manufacturing, medical services, city governance, agriculture, financial services and legal services.
In March 2019, President Xi presided over the seventh meeting of the Central Committee for Deepening Overall Reform. The committee reviewed and passed guidelines including, among others, guidelines of the deep integration of artificial intelligence with the real economy. The document stresses the new generation of artificial intelligence should be market-oriented, demand-based and aim for industrial application. It encourages the innovation motivation and endogenous power of enterprises. The meeting stressed a data-driven, human-machine synergy system, cross-border, shared intelligent economy.
One month later, the National Development and Reform Commission released Catalogue for Guiding Industrial Restructuring 2019 Draft (产业结构调整指导目录（2019年本，征求意见稿)), where Artificial Intelligence becoming an independent category in the encouraged industries catalog.
It is noted that China's AI strategy is an all-encompassing one aiming to improve people's living and working standards. In the meantime, technology development and use case scenarios are in the very early stage to fulfill the purposes. As the policy statements are logically illustrated, the implementation and final results require time.