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Experts see profound changes ahead

By Fan Feifei | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-08 11:27
A visitor from Finland tries to operate an intelligent, remote-controlled pushcart during the Light of Internet Expo that opened on Tuesday in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. [Photo by Chen Zebing/For China Daily]

Editor's Note: The Fifth World Internet Conference, also known as the Wuzhen Summit, opened on Wednesday in the ancient water town in Zhejiang province. In the runup to the event, China Daily reporter Fan Feifei quizzed senior executives from three leading Chinese internet-based companies - Wang Xiaochuan, CEO of Sogou; Peng Tao, president of Airbnb China; and Leo Zhu, co-founder and CEO of artificial intelligence company Yitu Technology. The executives, who are now attending or keeping a close eye on the conference, discussed the new landscape for innovation and the future development of the internet and related sectors in China.

Q1: Chinese tech enterprises have stepped up their efforts to master key technologies with proprietary intellectual property rights, despite lingering trade frictions between China and the United States. What sectors or cutting-edge technologies will the country achieve breakthroughs in, over the next few years?

Q2: How can companies leverage the internet and innovation to further China's economic transformation?

Q3: What are the characteristics of a powerful internet nation? What do you think are the advantages and challenges for China as it strives to be strong in the area?

Q4: In the past year, what transformations in the internet or technology sector do you think have the ability to influence our future or the future of the industry? What do you think are the reasons for these transformations?

Q5: In the next few years, which sector do you think will most likely become a disrupter in the internet or technology space? In other words, what do you think will be the next hotspot or major trend?

Wang Xiaochuan, CEO of Sogou [Photo/China Daily]

A1 Artificial Intelligence could be the sector where China makes breakthroughs. Vast amounts of data generated by the country's huge internet population, readily available capital and an excellent talent pool are all favorable conditions.

Chinese internet companies have a significant advantage in developing technologies that have the potential to benefit a tremendous number of people. For example, there is huge demand for better healthcare information in China. Sogou's cutting-edge AI-powered machine translation technology has already enabled our users to access Chinese translations of high-quality content from authoritative sources such as the US Food and Drug Administration, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the renowned Mayo Clinic.

In addition, our AI-enabled smart diagnosis system can help users better understand their illness by responding to queries about their symptoms with high-quality, trusted information. Users are then able to determine which hospital departments they should visit, based on recommendations from our system.

A2 Actually, there are six transformations that have made Sogou China's second-largest search engine and an AI innovator pioneering in natural language processing.

Through continuous technological input, Sogou Search was rolled out in 2004 within online news portal Sohu.com. Through product innovation, Sogou Keyboard was launched in 2006. It's now the No 1 Chinese language input software.

Through innovation, Sogou created its "input-browser search engine three-stage rocket" business model and acquired users fast, adding more competition to the market and bringing more options for users.

Through its spinoff from Sohu.com, Sogou removed system barriers and turned into a separate company. Through a partnership with Tencent, Sogou has gained a firm foothold in the mobile internet era. Through its IPO in the United States, Sogou has gained enough capital to further its advancement in AI.

As Sogou grows, it is galvanizing the search market and pushing AI development, which is expected to transform traditional industries.

A3 The advantages of China are threefold. China's vast number of users means that the marginal costs of developing new products and services is reduced, which could lower the entry barrier for companies looking to innovate. Moreover, improvements in China's national infrastructure have resulted in a significant increase in the number of Chinese internet users, now topping 800 million. In addition, Chinese people are dynamic and entrepreneurial.

For China, there is still room to improve in terms of fundamental research. However, we are also seeing a marked increase in the amount of spending by Chinese tech companies to support fundamental research, including Sogou. Two papers co-authored by Sogou vice-president Xu Jingfang have been accepted by the 2018 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, a highly regarded international conference in the field of natural language processing, attended by the likes of Facebook and Google.

A4 There is no doubt that AI will bring about crucial breakthroughs for China's internet and technology sectors. One of the most important, but difficult, aspects of AI is the ability to process language.

As AI is further integrated into traditional industries - for example, the manufacturing, healthcare and financial sectors - it will bring significant benefit in terms of efficiency and added productivity. In addition, investors are aware of the added value that AI can bring, and thus there will be a steady flow of funds to support the further development of AI. This in turn will make AI indispensable, and various AI-enabled technologies will be gradually implemented across all industries.

A5 For me, an obvious answer is natural language processing that will facilitate communications between machines and people.

At Sogou, we've worked to accelerate the evolution of searches, from providing results to responding to user queries with better, more accurate answers.

In addition, AI-powered machine translation will be a major disrupter in the technology sector and serve as a crucial breakthrough by enabling all users to overcome language barriers. This is incredibly important and embodies Sogou's mission of helping people all over the world to communicate and access information.

Most recently, Sogou's AI-powered machine simultaneous interpretation technology provided two-way interpretations in Chinese and English during interviews and news conferences at the China Open tennis tournament held in Beijing from Sept 23 to Oct 7.

This marked the first time that AI-powered instantaneous translation has played a key role at an international sports event.

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