AI at China’s top policy event – “the Two Sessions”

China’s most important policy event, the “Two Sessions”, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC), has recently been held during 3 – 15 March 2019. Surprisingly, and not surprisingly, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) has become a hot topic among the 491 proposals received by the Congress and has caught significant attention during the Two Sessions.

China’s “All-in-AI” strategy has been under the spotlight of the on-going global research and innovation race, not least between the US and China (see a snapshot below).   

Data: China AI development report 2018 by China Institute for Science and Technology Policy at Tsinghua University.
Graphic: https://technode.com/2017/10/22/china-vs-us-ai/

Let me start with the bad news: China is extremely scarce in artificial intelligence talents and there are almost no talents. The good news is that other countries are lacking, too. We don’t have experts for the future, all of them are experts for the past. Our country starts with education and is likely to win the future.

Jack Ma (President of Alibaba)

Nevertheless, how AI has been taken up and discussed during the Two Sessions, i.e. in a consultative, but highly political context in China, is a rather new and unknown phenom for the international community. In this blog we will share some AI-highlights from the “Two Sessions”, through which we hope to shed some new light on the current and future AI-development in China as well as on how such developments can be seen from an international perspective.   

Who are talking about AI at the Two Sessions?

The Premier Li Keqiang’s presentation of the Government’s Work Report 2018: For the emerging technologies, the deepened development of big data as well as the research and development of AI will be a key enhancer. For the traditional industries, “intelligence +” will be the key enabler for their upgrading and transforming.

Compared to previous Work Reports, the focus this year was no longer only a more rapid development, but also a deeper transformation and a deeper cross-sectoral integration.

China needs a healthy technology development of AI when China is becoming a leading nation of AI. The technologies are now moving ahead of the development of legal and regulatory frameworks as well as some of the current norms of people’s daily life and social development. All these aspects need to be included in the future development of science, technology and innovation related to AI. 

Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhigang gave his view at the NPC Open Press Meeting

The CEO of Tencent, Pony Ma, the CEO of Baidu, LI Yanhong, the CEO of Lenovo, YANG Yuanqin and the Chairman of Xiaomi, LEI Jun, all have submitted a number of proposals in the emerging technology-related fields, including AI, that caused significant attention at the NPC:

  • Deep integration of IoT and AI to enhance the high-quality of growth of China’s manufacturing and to create new productivity-dividends.
  • An all-of-society approach to enhancing the development of breakthrough technologies and basic research.
  • Strengthening the role of ethics in technology development, i.e. Technology for Good. 
  • More preventive and cautious as well as more integrated and standardized approaches for AI applications, in particular in traffic safety and public health related fields to avoid undesirable and harmful consequences to the public and the society.     
  • Strengthening the protection of teenagers in a digital environment and for their cyber safety.  
  • Strengthening the economic and innovation development of the Great Bay Area, i.e. one of China’s key innovation hubs for digital technologies and AI. 

What are the key messages from the Two-Sessions?

5G + AI + IoT for moving forward from Internet of Everything to Intelligence of Everything:  China’s current AI strategy emphasizes a systematic deployment of future technologies, integrated with upgrading and transforming the real economy (see the examples below).

Graphic: http://stock.jrj.com.cn/hotstock/2017/12/22134723837422.shtml

At present, China is in a good time to realize the high-tech industry “overtaking by changing lane.” The development of the AI industry can‘t just be some icing on the cake. We must pay attention to the rigid needs of the public health, transportation, safety, etc., and consider it to be “antibiotics”, not just “vitamins”.            

Director of Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Both potentials, risks and uncertainties of AI were highlighted during the Two Sessions. China’s All-in-AI strategy seems to have a more articulated two-track-approach: 1) research- and innovation-driven for China’s competitive edge and 2) preventive and governing measures to secure reliable and controllable uses of AI, not least in the context of legal, ethical and social consequences of AI-technologies. However, the latter one is still in a highly premature stage.    

China aims to strengthen international cooperation, not only on technical aspects, but also increasingly on key policy dimensions, such as privacy, ethics, laws and regulations. China sees that both international governance and industry self-discipline of AI-technology will be essential for a human-centered and responsible AI-development.  

Sweden’s policy work and national effort

When it comes to Sweden’s policy work and national effort on AI- development:

Given the increased awareness and sense of urgency of securing Sweden’s competitiveness in the field of AI as well as the significant needs of knowledge and understanding of China’s AI-development and its implication for Sweden, our monitoring and analyses will focus on the following:

  • Make the complex policy-context accessible to the Swedish AI-community and define necessary framework conditions as basis for meaningful and strategic dialogues on an advanced, inclusive and responsible AI-development in a global context.
  • Inform the Swedish AI-community about the rapid and dynamic research and innovation development related to AI, so that both competitive pressures from as well as development potentials in China, can be part of Sweden’s strategic AI-development.  

Nannan Lundin & Linnea Yang