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IT-enabled businesses will instill new energy in economy

By Ma Si | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-07 11:01
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AI opportunities for integration, development: A key topic at the 5th World Internet Conference

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, has stressed the importance of boosting the healthy development of the country's new generation of artificial intelligence (AI).

Presiding over a group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on Oct 31, Xi spoke of the need to strengthen leadership, make good plans, clearly define tasks and consolidate the foundation to promote deep integration of AI with economic and social developments.

And "AI: New Opportunity for Integration and Development" is a key topic at the ongoing World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, East China's Zhejiang province.

China's AI technology has had a huge impact on people's daily lives and work over the past decade, and millions of consumers are benefiting from the country's transformation from a technology follower to an innovation pioneer.

With more than 800 million netizens - more than the entire population of Europe - China is making concerted efforts to push the internet's popularity to a new level by bettering communications infrastructure, exploring state-of-the-art technologies and strengthening research and development capabilities.

As President Xi has said, as part of the task to build a modernized economy, China will use innovation to develop various sectors, and incorporate the internet, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) into the real economy. The comments came after China was listed as the only middle-income country among the world's top 25 most innovative economies - it is ranked 22, according to the 2017 report of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

China now has more researchers than the United States, outspends the European Union in research and development, and "is on track to beat all other nations in its yearly production of scientific papers", the science magazine Nature reported.

Accordingly, Miao Wei, minister of industry and information technology, said: "China is accelerating its pace in transforming from a country with an extensive cyber presence ... to a cyber powerhouse. We will ramp up resources to promote the in-depth incorporation of technological advances with economic and social development."

A McKinsey & Co report says internet-enabled technologies and business models will give China's economy a new burst of energy, with their contribution likely to surge from single digit to 22 percent of China's GDP growth by 2025.

Such rapid transformation will be supported by China's powerful information technology infrastructure. Already having the world's largest broadband and 4G mobile networks, China is in the race to build the world's leading 5G communications network.

5G is at least 10 times faster than 4G and will allow for superfast downloading of movies, and enable a string of applications such as self-driving cars, remote surgeries and streaming virtual reality games.

China fell behind other countries in the issuance of 4G and 3G licenses; in fact, it issued them about three to eight years after the pioneers. But Wang Zhiqin, vice-president of government think tank China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, said: "We will be among the first batch of countries to issue 5G licenses in the world, most likely by the end of this year or the first half of 2020."

Also, the country is investing more resources into research and development in the hope of achieving breakthrough in fundamental science and exercising greater control over key technologies. China's spending on R&D reached 1.76 trillion yuan ($254 billion) in 2017, the average level of moderately developed countries, and accounted for 2.13 percent of the country's GDP, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

As Zhang Peng, a senior NBS statistician, said, more importantly, the structure of R&D spending improved as the spending on fundamental research rose 18.5 percent year-on-year to 97.55 billion yuan, marking the highest growth rate in five years.

And Xie Shaofeng, director of the Informatization and Software Service Division at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said domestic internet companies are making steady progress in R&D, with a string of internationally competitive players emerging in the fields of cloud computing, big data, AI and other technologies.

Last year, China's top 100 internet companies, led by the Alibaba Group, had 197,000 R&D staff, accounting for 19.4 percent of their headcount, and boasted 22,000 patents, 13,000 of which were invention-related including globally influential technology.

"More efforts will be made to pursue breakthroughs in general processors, fundamental software and other crucial technologies. We will also accelerate steps to draft common standards to further the development of the internet," Xie said.

What is supposed to further fuel China's rapid technological advancement is that the country is attaching increasing importance to AI, an area where all countries are scrambling to establish a beachhead.

In December, the State Council, China's Cabinet, unveiled a national development plan to build a 1 trillion yuan AI core industry by 2030, which is expected to stimulate as much as 10 trillion yuan in related businesses.

To achieve that goal, concrete policies have been and will continue to be made, which in turn will help build a globally competitive smart internet-connected car industry, accelerate the use of AI-enabled robots for eldercare and AI systems to assist doctors in medical cases.

Local companies, too, are marching ahead in the direction. Baidu Inc is making great efforts to mass-produce self-driving vehicles. Alibaba set up a global research academy DAMO and promised to invest 100 billion yuan in three years to get a head start in human-machine interaction, quantum computing, and other areas.

A report by consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers forecast that AI will contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030 and China will be among the biggest beneficiaries of that, with a 26 percent boost to its GDP by 2030.

And consequently, Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, said: China will lead the world in AI development, backed by the country's gigantic number of internet users and improving R&D prowess.

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