China versus USA in AI potential

China has set a 2020 target for the core AI industry’s gross output (RMB 150 billion) would represent a tenfold increase of the AI industry in the next three years.

Oxford and the Future of Humanity have a 44-page report on China’s AI plans.

They report that China is still far behind on hardware but ahead in mobile and data and lagging in algorithms and commercial AI companies.

China’s success in building supercomputers demonstrates its potential to catch-up to world leaders in AI hardware. One metric that demonstrates this finding is the share of the highest-performing supercomputers located in China, per the global Top500 list. In 2014, China’s share of the Top500 list consisted of 76 systems (15.2%), which was a distant second to the U.S. at 232 systems (46.4%).113 The June 2017 version of the Top500 list saw China nearly catch up to the U.S., with the former boasting 159 systems (31.8%) and the latter having 168 systems (33.6%).

China has relied on imports and acquisitions to boost the most immediately relevant aspects of AI hardware. As this strategy has come under more scrutiny by the U.S. and EU, China is promoting national champions in its domestic chip-making industry and making long-term bets on powerful supercomputing facilities. In some respects, China’s approach to building its domestic semiconductor industry is a microcosm for its overall approach to AI development. State-directed theft of intellectual property, targeted poaching of talent, and strong government guidance have all been part of China’s brute force approach to boosting its semiconductor industry. Yet despite this effort, China’s domestic production of integrated circuits (IC) accounts for less than 13% of the country’s demand, and its trade deficit in the global IC market has more than doubled since 2005. Thus, catching up in the domain of AI hardware may take a long time, if it happens at all.

Chinese technology giants collect vast troves of data, and sharing among government agencies and companies is common. Chinese consumers, the source of much of this data, are early and eager tech adopters, as reflected by smartphone penetration rates across the country and industry forecasts which show that the mainland will account for over 50% of the global retail e-commerce market by 2018. Per a report by CCID Consulting, China is projected to possess 30% of the world’s data by 2030. President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Bai Chunli, estimated, “By 2020, China will hold 20% of the global data, which is expected to reach 44 trillion gigabytes.

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