During this year's two sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) national committee, the heads of two of China's biggest tech firms have proposed empowering traditional industries with artificial intelligence (AI) technology and encouraging the establishment of open AI platforms.
Over the past five years, the country has witnessed rapid development in big data, AI and cloud computing, and application of these technologies has been expanded into more areas such as governance and smart cities, Pony Ma Huateng, a deputy at the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) and chairman of Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings, told a press briefing in Beijing on Saturday night.
"My first suggestion for the two sessions is to accelerate the establishment of 'digital China' to improve livelihoods," he said.
In terms of further integration of technology in traditional sectors, Ma suggested empowering medical services with AI as it could help in diagnosing diseases, especially in outlying areas where medical conditions are less developed.
AI saw rapid development in 2017 and it can now be applied in many scenarios, Ma said.
"Still, there's a long way to go for AI, as it's currently mainly used in some specialized, narrow scenarios," he remarked.
Ma also suggested building a risk-prevention mechanism for the finance sector and enhancing science education for teenagers. "Some new technologies such as virtual reality and AI can be extended into remote areas for local kids to enjoy the dividends of the internet boom," he said.
On the same day, Robin Li Yanhong, a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and CEO of Baidu Inc, suggested China should roll out more policy measures in terms of capital and taxation to encourage more enterprises to open AI platforms. A batch of competitive national AI platforms should also be cultivated, he said.
These platforms can use technology and computing resources to meet the data and application need of traditional enterprises, enhancing their efficiency and creating new products, according to Li.
"Objectively speaking, China ranks second in the world in AI development behind the US, which has advantages in talent, basic theory research and algorithms," Li told the Global Times in a group interview on Saturday.
"But the Chinese government has a very open mind toward innovation, and would like to try new things. Besides, traditional industries in China have less resistance to new technology compared with those of the US," Li said.
For example, "when we talk to [steel] workers in Shougang Group or peach farmers in [Beijing's] Daxing district about AI application, they are all willing to accept it," he noted.
The nature of AI is to replace some human functions by using computers, but this creates opportunities not only for highly educated groups, but also for ordinary people. "Thanks to information, technology and new tools, many barriers will disappear and people's work and life shall become more convenient and equal," Li said.
Global Times (GT)'s interview with Robin Li Yanhong, a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and CEO of Baidu Inc
GT: Baidu used to be called an "imitator" of Google, but a while ago US magazine Time featured you on the cover, describing you as "The Innovator." What do you think of this change?
Li: Of course, I'm very happy because "imitator" is not a very good word but "innovator" obviously shows that you are recognized. But from the bottom of my heart, I've never felt like an imitator. In the search engine area, I invented the hyperlink analysis patent earlier than Google. Over the years, Baidu has always been researching the market, not imitating its competitors. What Baidu has done is quite different from Google and other firms, which naturally turns around the "imitator" image.
In a bigger perspective, people have come to know that many original products are born in China. The US in particular knows that the only country in the world that can challenge it in the AI sector is China. So, as a representative of China's AI firms, I think the word "innovator" is reasonable.