Artificial intelligence: China catching up to US in race for technological supremacy

Photo: Chinese companies have claimed the first two artificial intelligence breakthroughs of the year. (Reuters: Kim Kyung-Hoon, file)

Artificial intelligence from a Chinese tech giant has defeated the country’s best player of the board game Go, despite giving the grandmaster an advantage — matching and perhaps surpassing Google’s efforts last year.

Key points:

  • Tencent’s AI defeated a Go grandmaster despite a handicap
  • Google’s AlphaGo AI last year beat the same player without one
  • China is aiming to surpass the US in its AI capabilities by 2030

The artificial intelligence (AI) developed by Chinese company Tencent beat world number-two Go player Ke Jie last week with a two-stone handicap, the official People’s Daily newspaper reported.

Handicaps are used in Go to even out the difference in skill level between players.

Google’s AlphaGo AI beat Ke last year just months after defeating fellow grandmaster Lee Se-dol of South Korea — however AlphaGo has never competed against top-level players using a handicap.

AlphaGo has since been placed in retirement, with Google instead focusing its energies on its self-teaching AlphaGo Zero machine, which mastered the complex game in 40 days last year.

Tencent drew on research papers on AlphaGo Zero released publicly by Google to create its own champion, and its victory is a sign of just how seriously China is taking the race for AI supremacy.

AI development a national policy in China

“China has a declared ambition to equal the US in its AI capability by 2020 and to be number one in the world by 2030,” said Professor Toby Walsh, a leading AI expert from the University of New South Wales.

Tencent’s victory came shortly after fellow Chinese tech company Alibaba announced its team had developed an AI that it said, “[surpasses] humans in reading comprehension“.

Professor Walsh, who is also the author of the book ‘It’s Alive: Artificial Intelligence from the Logic Piano to Killer Robots’, said it was significant the first two breakthroughs in the field this year have come from Chinese companies.

“China seems to be catching up, if not already leading the game,” Professor Walsh said.

The Chinese Government’s Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, announced last year, aims to create a massive US$150 billion AI industry in China by 2030.

The country sees AI technology as crucial to its development agenda, and as a way of improving the lives of its people.

Relaxed attitudes to privacy in China and its enormous smartphone market — which generates a huge amount of data that can be used in AI research — also give the country a natural advantage in the sector.

China’s ambitious strategy is just one of several across the world. The US, UK, France, UAE, Canada, South Korea and Japan also have their own plans.

Australia however does not have one yet.

Photo: Countries around the world are adopting formal AI strategies. (ABC Gold Coast: Damien Larkins)

“I think we need some action here, really. I think the Government really needs a national plan,” Professor Walsh said.

“And we do actually have a remarkably good research community. We have some of the most automated ports, some of the most automated mines in the world.

“We are actually already punching well above our weight in this field, and so we should take advantage of that.”

China already leading in some areas

Professor Walsh said according to some measures, Chinese companies were already outperforming their rivals — but there was still room for improvement.

“In terms of the pure output, the number of papers and patents and so on, China is now actually ahead of the US,” he said.

“If you look more closely at the data, look at the quality of the work, look at things like the citations, you can still see that the US is still ahead of China.

“The quality of the work is perhaps a bit higher in the US.”

However while China is interested in how the technology can be used to improve living standards, it remains clear-eyed about the potential military applications of AI.

The Government’s strategy makes it clear information on technological developments is to be shared between civilian and military researchers.

Professor Walsh, who has been involved in efforts calling for a worldwide ban on so-called “killer robots”, said global efforts to regulate AI would be necessary.

“We’re not going to be able to stop the technology being developed, because actually it has very potentially good uses — the same technology that goes into your autonomous car will go into your autonomous drone,” he said.

“We’re not going to stop the development of the technology, but we can make sure it’s used for good.”

Translations by Bang Xiao and Jason Fang, Asia Pacific Newsroom.

Posted on February 2, 2018, in ConspiracyOz Posts. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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