Expert Insights China Paves the Way in Artificial Intelligence

China Paves the Way in Artificial Intelligence
China is taking the lead in developing the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology and is getting ready for the large-scale commercialization of AI.

Technological innovation redefines mobility

In the past century, the pursuit of speed and performance has been at the centre of the most successful car maker’s automobile design, with the whole industry focusing on challenging the limits of engines and horsepower. In the near future, however, smart connectivity and autonomous driving will fundamentally change the role of humans in a car. The man-machine interaction between drivers/passengers and the car will become increasingly important. BYTON is a company known for its pioneering role of connectivity in future mobility.

Daniel Kirchert, president and co-founder of BYTON, discussed his ambition to disrupt the automobile industry and his journey in founding BYTON. He is convinced that cars running on the internal combustion engine will gradually be replaced by electric cars and improving driving performance will no longer be the focus of future mobility. Technology and connectivity will take over gas cylinders and horsepower.

Sharing his vision for the future electric car, Mr. Kirchert said BYTON is seeking to develop electric cars into the next-generation smart vehicle that combine the car, a luxury moving space and the Internet in one". Artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet enables gesture, face and emotion recognition capabilities, which can provide instinctive and unprecedented experiences in man-machine interaction.

Meanwhile, BYTON cars will carry their brand new digital ecosystem "BYTON Life" which allow users to store and synchronize customized settings in the cloud. Drivers will be automatically identified through biometric recognition and their customized settings will then be downloaded from the cloud. Even when they are sharing a car, users will feel like they are driving their own car, helping them realise a "seamless Internet connectivity living".

Using AI to support the digital transformation of industries

Eric Chang, Deputy Managing Director of Microsoft Research Asia, delivered a keynote speech on how AI can be applied in the digital transformation of various industries on three levels.

Mr. Chang divided AI into three tiers according to the speed of processing: computer vision (swift response), dialogue based on natural language (longer time required for the mutual support between intelligent agent and artificial computing), and analysis (even longer time required as a function of a human’s thinking process). Mr. Chang presented the different levels of fundamental technology and service platforms provided by Microsoft within these tiers to a wide range of industries, including retail, manufacturing, security, education, medicine, finance, the Internet and corporate management.

Commenting on the uniqueness and advantages of China in global AI innovation, Mr. Chang said the country’s massive population and the need for social safety contributed to its leading position globally in the development of AI in areas such as face recognition within vision computation. He pointed out that natural language and chatting tools have become increasingly reliant on AI and may drive significant change in the education sector.

The landing of Al in China and globally

Li Xu, Sensetime co-founder and CEO, introduced to investors and guests the current developments in AI and its prospects for commercialization in China’s different sectors. He sees vision computation as one of the three focal points of AI development in China where the conditions for large-scale commercialization are already there.

Mr. Xu cited a number of vivid cases of the application of visual computation in areas from finance, security and commerce through intelligent terminals and the Internet to arts, sports and AR, illustrating the role of deep learning in bringing about the shift of human-guided machine learning one decade ago to data-based automated machine learning today, with better performance than manual operation seen in many fields.

Mr. Xu concluded his speech by elaborating on the competitive position of Chinese companies in the world’s deep learning research (R&D) and academic studies. Currently, a number of iconic Chinese enterprises have made significant strides in terms of the quantity and quality of research papers presented at globally authoritative visual computation conferences such as the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition(CVPR) and the International Conference on Computer Vision (ICCV). They are also leading the world in the computing performance of deep learning algorithms.

Documentary film: "7%" – Humans vs AI

Hao Zhou, a two-time Golden Horse Award winning director for Best Documentary, presented his latest documentary "7%" and exchanged his views with the audience on the topic of AI.

The documentary features an interesting account of AI "Jueyi", or FineArt, a Go game developed by Tencent AI lab, the process of its development and when it is played in real life. The release of the documentary at the Conference marked its premiere in mainland China. Go as a board game has been applauded as the holy grail of human intelligence, but AI has now beaten the human brain much to the excitement of software developers and bafflement of chess players.

Mr. Zhou shared some of his thoughts in shooting this documentary. "The most mysterious thing to me is that members of the development team are typical programmers: geek-looking youngsters of no more than 35 years of age." He added, "No one other than the team leader knows how to play Go. They don't even know how to make two "eyes" to survive in the game. It takes more than ten years of training to become a top Go player, but AI beats human beings hands down in the time needed." Mr. Zhou said the development had opened his eyes to the endless possibility of the development of human society and the fact that we should expand our sphere of thought and methods of cognition. Mr. Zhou also revealed his plan to shoot another documentary based on the story about WeChat and its founder Xiaolong Zhang.

The audience was extremely interested in the relative strengths of AI and the human mind. Mr. Zhou believes that the meaning of existence and the uncertainties that come with it are the things that make being a human so fascinating. "Each move taken by AI is rational, based on calculations and analyses, with winning as the only objective and a complete lack of ego. However, man is infatuated with materialistic pursuits. Go is also referred to as a "discourse with hands", meaning it is a board game of non-verbal communication between two players. Moreover, Go means more than winning or losing for humans; it is a practice imbued with an insightful understanding of life.

When asked about the occupations least likely to be taken over by AI in the future, Mr. Zhou showed himself as a broad-minded man. He concluded his talk by citing the case of Xiaolong Zhang: "he never sees the future with any degree of certainty. This uncertainty is precisely the force that continuously drives WeChat forward."

Last mile of smart movement

Lucas Liu, co-founder of COWAROBOT, demonstrated to the audience a suitcase that automatically follows the traveler. Similar cases featuring a shopping trolley, a dining cart, an unmanned forklift truck and courier service were also shown. The audience was amazed by the cool application of smart mobility that transcends the confines of a closed factory space into more dynamic and open environments.

COWAROBOT is a start-up established in 2015, focusing on the application of low-speed autonomous mobility technology in daily life and the consumer sector. Its core technology covers laser and radar sensor guidance, radio frequency positioning, 3D sensor-guided intelligent steering, and multi-level terrain power system. Mr. Liu foresees a market worth trillions of dollars created by the application of autonomous mobility in open environments and expects exponential development in smart mobility products over the next two years.

COWAROBOT has accessed the low-speed autonomous mobility sector through its consumer products. By developing its own algorithm, modularizing its hardware design and optimizing the supply chain, the company has cut down on costs and developed a range of low-threshold products customized to the needs of businesses. Through the products, large bodies of primordial sensor data have been collected and used for training to optimize the decision-making algorithm of autonomous mobility. This approach can improve both performance and user experience.

Mr. Liu sees the challenge to the popularization of smart mobility as lying in the compatibility between the setting and the application, the extent to which products can replace human labor, and the cost and operating models. He thinks the selection of a setting suitable for robot application is of particular significance and robot leasing can deal with the problem of popularizing robot applications and address the issue of relatively high unit costs.

Multi-modal semantics of AI – a child’s AI story

Jia Guo, co-founder of Turing Robot, introduced to the delegates his company and the application of robots in China’s consumer products market, particularly the development of robots for children and their prospects. After attempts in their first few years, Turing Robot eventually chose to enter the market with a focus on "companionship for children", as they are also positive on the future market development of "semantic processing + companionship for children" in China.

Mr. Guo discussed the rapid adoption of AI technology in the market for children’s products, citing the storytelling machine which now represents a market with 30 million units of output a year. One third of the factories and products have upgraded to enable them to adopt smart technology this year.

In the global market, Mr. Guo sees intelligent audio devices and BeautyCam as two typical AI applications that will change consumer behavior. In China’s children market, the development of semantic processing technology is leading to rapid expansion and de-centralization of intelligent technology. Now storytelling machines as well as toys, table lamps and even bonsais are capable of interacting with kids.

Mr. Guo also mentioned that aside from their basic algorithms, Chinese companies hold a competitive edge over international corporations in engineering (i.e. industry application), which may enable the Chinese companies to overtake the competition in the field of intelligent consumer products.