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Intelligent Machines

In 2017, China Is Doubling Down on AI

The country’s Internet giants are focusing on AI research, and domestic venture capital funding is pouring into the field.

This year, China looks set to make larger waves than ever in artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

The nation’s search giant, Baidu, is leading the charge. Already making serious headway in AI research, it has now announced that former Microsoft executive Qi Lu will take over as its chief operating officer. Lu ran the applications and services division at Microsoft, but, according to the Verge, a large part of his remit was developing strategies for artificial intelligence and chatbots. In a statement, Baidu cites hiring Lu as part of its plan to become a “global leader in AI.”

Meanwhile, Baidu’s chief scientist, Andrew Ng, has announced that the company is opening a new augmented reality lab in Beijing. Baidu has already made progress in AR, using  computer vision and deep learning to add an extra layer to the real world for millions of people. But the new plans aim to use a 55-strong lab to increase revenue by building AR marketing tools—though it’s thought that the company will also consider health-care and education applications in the future.

But Baidu isn’t alone in pushing forward. Late last year, Chinese Internet giant Tencent—the company behind the hugely successful mobile app WeChat, which has 846 million active users—said that it was determined to build a formidable AI lab. It plans to start publishing its work at conferences this year.

Smaller players could also get a shot in the arm. According to KPMG, Chinese venture capital investment looks set to pour into AI research in the coming year. Speaking to Fintech Innovation, KPMG partner Egidio Zarrella explained that “the amount being invested in artificial intelligence in Asia is growing by the day.”

Similar growth is already underway in China's research community. A study by Japan's National Institute of Science and Technology Policy found China to be a close second to the U.S. in terms of the number of AI studies presented at top academic conferences in 2015. And a U.S. government report says that the number of papers published by Chinese researchers mentioning "deep learning" already exceeds the number published by U.S. researchers.

All of which has seen South China Morning Post label AI and AR as “must haves” in any self-respecting Chinese investment portfolio. No kidding. This year, it seems, many U.S. tech companies might find themselves looking East to identify competition.

(Read  more: Bloomberg, Reuters, “A Chinese Internet Giant Enters the AI Race,” “How AI Is Feeding China’s Internet Dragon,” “Baidu Is Bringing Intelligent AR to the Masses”)

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