Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Is AI in China the next frontier in the battle for tech dominance?
The Chinese government has recently nominated its best technology companies to accelerate China towards global AI dominance. The Ministry of Science and Technology in China identified local giants Baidu, Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings – BAT, as well as iFlytek, the voice-intelligence specialist as the first group of companies to form a “national team” to lead the AI movement in China, with an end goal of being a global leader in AI by 2030.
AI in China
Baidu will focus on autonomous driving, where it has multiple successes already. It stepped up investment in the self-driving project in September this year with $1.5 billion and plans to launch a fully autonomous car as early as 2019 with Chinese OEMs like JAC Motors and BAIC Motor. Alibaba cloud is taking on the project “City Brains”, which is already well underway in Hangzhou for a full fledge AI-powered smart city project. Tencent will focus on computer vision for medical diagnosis. iFlytek will specialize in voice intelligence.
China’s AI strategy
According to Raymond Wang, a partner in the consultancy Roland Berger, this is the first time that the biggest names in the China Internet Industry has been named in national strategy. The movement further proves the Chinese government will be pushing AI in China ahead at a national level and while it’s blessing will smooth the path for these companies in obtaining industry support and sensitive data for their AI ambition, there are also concerns of whether this move will undermine the chances of industry latecomers. Traditional automakers are also tapping into the taxi market through its own taxi service. Nissan in Japan has partnered with a local software company DeNA to launch the Easy Ride system, a self-driving taxis service to be launch next March year using a Nissan leaf electric car. There will be a 2 week free trial when the service begins in Yokohama. The national launch in Japan could be in the early 2020s.
GM similarly is launching a ride-sharing service featuring its line of self-driving Chevy Bolts as early as 2019. GWM hasn’t mentioned a location yet, but it will mostly likely be in San Francisco and New York city, where GM is undergoing or planning to test their Chevy Bolts already. The launch of the self-driving taxis directly put GM into strong competitors of Uber and Waymo, and while GM is able to scale up quickly using its powerful production chain, it might be lacking when it comes to technology, where Waymo is miles ahead.
Looking from the ground up, companies are hard at work to make electric flying cars a reality. Only they are are not necessarily “flying cars”, more like a hybrid between a helicopter and an airplane, according to Justin Erlich, Uber’s Head of Policy of Autonomous vehicle and Urban Aviation. Uber’s air travel, which some dubbed it as “UberAir”, will be making trips from one point to another and cover no more than 60 miles because of the battery issues. You input your destination, and the Uber app will tell you where’s the closest Skyport. You will catch the UberAir to another location close to your final destination. It is designed for ‘super-commuting’, like skipping road traffic in San Francisco to downtown San Jose; or from the LA airport to East LA.
It’s safe to say everyone in tech is eager to see what strides AI in China makes over the next year.
By Brian Trappe.
Brian Trappe is Managing Director of Axiom Technology Headhunting in Hong Kong. Axiom is a headhunting firm comprised of a network of people who are passionate about technology to provide the most valuable service to their clients.
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