Mike Halsall - Entrepreneur and Government Advisor

AI and China

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and China, an interesting blend of ethics, ambition and world domination.  In February 2018, the FT published an article ‘Why we are in danger of overestimating AI’, arguing that ‘considerably more work is needed before we can reach the long-dreamt-of moment when machine intelligence matches the human variety’. By 2030, just 11 years from now, China intends to lead the world in AI. Is this a realistic ambition, or has China become over-confident in her re-emerged wealth and growing geopolitical muscle?


China’s AI development in Western media is generating both alarm and acquiescence, akin to the ongoing debate about Hauwei. The danger is that this can lead us to over and/or underestimate what is happening on the ground across China. Sticking to the facts, it was only in May 2017 when China’s Ministry of Science and Technology announced its decision to add ‘AI 2.0’ to the line-up of the planned Science and Technology Innovation 2030 Megaprojects. The overall initiative was launched as part of the 13th Five-Year National Science and Technology Innovation Plan, including (amongst others) robotics, big data and intelligent manufacturing.

How is this transpiring into daily life in China? Rather well. AI is everywhere; it is used in classrooms, hospitals, offices, on the streets and in homes. Thanks to the ubiquity of WeChat, China’s own hybrid version of Facebook (and in my opinion vastly superior to the Western social media network-effect derived monopolies) urban Chinese society was almost instantly digitalized because the Chinese platform includes a wallet, home page, public services, utilities features, and more, giving rise to an explosion of data helping the Chinese develop ever improving AI. Whether or not China’s AI capabilities are really as advanced as they allude to, Chinese society is standing arms wide open, ready to embrace AI in all forms without having much thought as to the consequences.

Alongside China’s national efforts to promote AI, decentralised efforts have also begun; cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, and Tianjin now have their own plans for AI. Beijing, home to Haidian Science Park, alternatively known as China's Silicon Valley, which sits within a stone’s throw of both Tsinghua and Peking University, plans to build a 13.8 billion RMB AI development park, hosting up to 400 uniquely AI enterprises armed with the vastness of data putting British to shame.

Many budding entrepreneurs aspire to repeat the success of incumbent Chinese AI giants, including Ubtech Robotics, a Shenzhen based company, SenseTime a Chinese government supplier of face-recognition technology, and DJI, which has a 70% share in the global drone market with AI inside. With financial backing from Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, China’s AI ambitions look well-funded. Add data and a can-do autocratic administration, remembering also China’s extraordinary history before the wheels fell off post late Ming Dynasty; surely they’re in poll position.

China’s AI could benefit its citizens through improve quality of life, particularly in terms of healthcare and education. However, the transformative nature of AI could likewise bring adverse effects should unscrupulous practices be applied. Whilst China’s AI agenda becomes increasingly more pronounced, competing against all other nations for market-share and ultimately supremacy, we must ensure that ethics do not get left behind.

Future of Finance is where such matters are aired for debate. Let’s talk openly about the sort of world we want our descendants to live in, addressing ethics of AI, how we deal with biased data, do we audit AI algorithms, and of course, let’s make another Terminator AI film but with Angelina Jolie as the shape-shifting robot that saves the human race from a dystopian future.


Written by Mike Halsall - Entrepreneur and Government Advisor

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