China is making significant strides and closing the gap with the United States in artificial intelligence development, but it won’t be easy for the nation to build the industry footprint overseas, according to a prominent Norwegian entrepreneur and AI expert.
Jorn Lyseggen, founder and CEO of Meltwater, which is involved in online media monitoring and business intelligence software, said China, though it has laid the groundwork to become a world leader in AI, will face a bumpy road due to one key factor: trust issue.
To Lyseggen, AI is all about data. “It doesn’t matter how good the [algorithm] model that you build, it is the data that creates the strongest AI model and technology,” Lyseggen told EJ Insight in an interview in Hong Kong last month.
Tech companies like Google and Facebook provide services in exchange for your data. The practice works based on the choice given to users (e.g. agreeing to 500 pages of terms of service), as well as the public’s trust in the company.
“Which of these [internet platforms] are most trusted by users” becomes a critical question for companies to maintain the source of data sets for developing innovations in AI, notes Lyseggen.
“Trust towards Facebook and Google is a little bit shaky these days, but we can say that these companies are being trusted more than Chinese companies.”
Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba and Tencent have easy access to formidable datasets from the country’s 1.4 billion-strong population. But when they seek to expand their global footprint, “they will probably struggle a little bit due to the trust issue,” said Lyseggen.
That said, he admitted that China is making good progress in its bid to be taken seriously as a leading power in technology development, including AI.
“China is closing the gap every day,” said Lyseggen.
The nation has been gathering ammunition for an AI battle with the US, he said, pointing to the supply of engineers and scientists, as well as funding from government and private sectors.
“China has the huge shared intellectual horsepower,” said Lyseggen.
As part of the government’s push to develop a technical workforce, a record-breaking 8 million students will graduate from Chinese universities in 2017, which is nearly ten times higher than it was in 1997 and is more than double the number of students who will graduate this year in the US, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
“There are only a few countries in the world that can match that”, Lyseggen noted.
“Another important factor is how much funding you can get from governmental agencies and private sectors,” Lyseggen said. “Right now, several millions of dollars to some Chinese companies is just ‘nothing’; it’s just a normal funding round for a second-tier startup.”
Amid an ambition to surpass the US, China has moved forcefully to promote the development of AI and encourage the use of industrial robots.
In July, the State Council laid out goals to build a domestic AI industry worth nearly US$150 billion in the next few years, and to make the country an “innovation center for AI” by 2030.
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