Major AI event in Tianjin highlights opportunities, technology governance

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The World Intelligence Underwater Robots Challenge in Tianjin. Xinhua

TIANJIN (Xinhua) – A major conference that opened yesterday for artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, tech industry leaders and policy-makers highlighted opportunities in the sector and the need for better governance.

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The third World Intelligence Congress, a four-day conference held in north China’s Tianjin Municipality, gathered more than 1,400 participants from over 40 countries and regions, according to the organiser.

It includes forums, exhibitions, and competitions for unmanned cars and drones. The Tianjin municipal government, Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), and National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) are among the event organizers.

“AI is projected to drive global GDP gains of over 15.7 trillion US dollars by 2030,” said Lin Nianxiu, deputy director of NDRC, at the opening ceremony. “AI changes the future and creates it at the same time.”

The opportunities of AI have lured tech companies such as Huawei, Alibaba, and General Electric, as well as research institutions and universities to the conference.

In 2017, the State Council issued a plan for new generation AI. The plan said the AI industry should become a major new growth engine.

Over the years, China has applied AI in multiple fields including city planning, smart transport, social governance, health, agriculture, and national security.

The country’s high-tech big names are leading investments in these fields, with Baidu in automated driving, Alibaba in AI cities, Tencent in medicine and health, and iFlytek in intelligent voices. Some are already eyeing returns.

“With the increasing presence of AI in people’s lives, I think we have entered a time that companies can cash in on the AI technology in 2019,” said Liu Qingfeng, chairman of voice-recognition giant iFlytek.

In March, the company’s AI-powered machine ranked top in the SQuAD natural language comprehension challenge and outperformed humans.

China’s investment in AI has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2017, China’s AI enterprises represented 70 percent of the global AI investment and 31 percent of global AI investment transactions, according to China AI Development Report 2018 by a think tank at Tsinghua University.

With the influx of capital and rapid development of the sector, many are concerned about its social effects.

During the conference, Ryu Shionoya, chairman of Artificial Intelligence and Future Socioeconomic Strategy Headquarters of Japan, stressed AI ethics and social principles for AI such as being human-centric, privacy and security for building an “AI-ready society.”

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