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US analytics firm SAS plans to hitch AI to real economy

By Zheng Yiran | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-01 10:03
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US-based analytics firm SAS plans to invest $1 billion in artificial intelligence in the coming three years. [Photo/IC]

US-based analytics firm SAS plans to invest $1 billion in artificial intelligence in the coming three years, with China a major target market where the company sees huge demand on the back of the Chinese government's emphasis on AI development, said one of its top executives.

"Through software innovation, education empowerment, and specialist service, we will continue to empower analysis-related industries and the country's real economy," said Gavin Day, senior vice-president of SAS.

He said that part of the investment will flow into SAS' research and development center in Beijing. The rest will be used to bridge the talent gap.

"There is a huge shortage of talent in China. Not everyone understands the power of analytics, and how it operates. We are investing in local universities in China and with our partners to help teach analytics to the next generation."

SAS has supported over 70 master's degrees in China's universities such as Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, and Renmin University of China. In addition, it has successfully held six analytics contests in China's universities.

Initially, there were merely 55 teams from three contest regions. The latest contest attracted 1,300 teams from 31 contest regions. More than 3,600 participants evinced interest in considering analytics as a career.

"We noted that China's demand for AI talent is growing dramatically, and related education is a must. Through educational investment, SAS is empowering China's next generation of analytics talents," said He Weixin, managing director of SAS China.

In 2017, the State Council issued a guideline on AI development, with a goal of keeping China's overall AI technology and application level in line with the world's advanced level by 2020. It also underlined making China a forerunner in the world in terms of AI knowledge, technology and application by 2030.

Last year's Government Work Report introduced instructions to promote the development of the new generation of AI, especially in the fields of healthcare, pensions, culture, education, and sports.

At the beginning of this year, the government highlighted that AI development should be integrated into the country's real economy, and that the industry should be market-driven, to stimulate enterprises' power of innovation and vitality of internal growth.

A recent International Data Corp report showed that in 2018,China's AI market size in terms of sales revenue reached $1.76 billion. The figure is expected to reach $11.9 billion by 2023. By 2030, China is expected to take a lead in the world in terms of AI theory, technology and application, and become a major AI innovation center.

Zhu Guang, CEO of Du Xiaoman Financial, the financial arm of Baidu, said: "In China, in the coming five to 10 years, AI technology will be deeply integrated into every industry. Some major companies will offer better instruments and better algorithms, to spread the AI revolution to every industry. The wave of AI gives people more time to use imagination and creativity, in order to make things that cannot be replaced by machines better."

So, SAS established a financial incubation center in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in East China, integrating its financial system into the local ecosystem. It also set up an internet of things partnership with the local government of Wuxi, Jiangsu province, using its technology to energize the city's outdated industries.

Last year, at the China International Big Data Industry Expo in Guiyang, Guizhou province, SAS teamed up with local financial institutions to set up a big data lab. The goal was to nurture talent and incubate new projects. It also partnered with the municipal government of Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on a manufacturing project.

"We value the Chinese market, where we must guarantee steady business growth. In the future, we will increase investment in AI applications in the finance and manufacturing sector, enhance our AI technology, such as machine learning, natural language processing and deep learning, consolidate customer relationships, as well as cultivate the new generation of AI talent for China," He from SAS China said.

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