Industry experts, academics and venture capitalists weigh in on Shanghai's ambitions to become a global AI powerhouse at the recent World Artificial Intelligence Conference in the city
Major cities in China have been ramping up their efforts to bolster their artificial intelligence sectors in light of the central government's plan to turn the nation into an AI powerhouse that is home to a 1 trillion yuan ($145.5 billion) industry by 2030.
According to a plan issued last year by the municipal authorities, Shanghai is looking to lead the pack by becoming a global AI hub, with plans to expand the scale of its industry to more than 100 billion yuan by 2020.
While the city is not home to China's trinity of tech giants - Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent - it has leveraged its reputation as a talent hub with the necessary infrastructure to pursue this goal. Within the span of just one week in August, the local government had inked two deals with Alibaba and Tencent to deepen cooperation on AI research and bolster its smart city initiative.
In September, Baidu said that it will open up more than 110 AI-related capabilities by establishing an innovation center in the city.
"The matured industrial chain of smart chips, software and hardware services, along with the ability to attract technology talents have equipped Shanghai with an exceptional advantage in AI development," said Pony Ma, chairman of Tencent, during his keynote speech at the inaugural World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai on Sept 17.
The event, which was the latest demonstration of the city's AI ambitions, attracted a host of high profile personalities including Turing Award winner Raj Reddy.
Clear govt agenda
During the opening ceremony of the WAIC, Shanghai's Party secretary Li Qiang again pledged to turn the city into a "national AI highland" that would focus on AI research and achieving breakthroughs in core technologies such as intelligent sensing.
Officials and industry experts have pointed to the municipality's wealth of big data resources, wide variety of application scenarios and its large R&D talent pool as key components in its quest to become a global AI hub.
According to Li, the goal is viable thanks to a variety of industry-specific application scenarios in Shanghai and the surrounding Yangtze River Delta region, China's most affluent area, the mines of data in traffic and goods, the capital to train AI algorithms, as well as the sound IT infrastructures to support the new generation of mobile communications and internet of things technologies.
Chen Mingbo, director of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Economy and Informatization, pointed out that Shanghai is also an ideal place to establish pilot zones where AI-powered applications in manufacturing, finance, healthcare, autonomous driving and robots can be tested.
To aid its goal, Shanghai is planning to set up AI development funds containing 100 billion yuan, as well as 10 public platforms for AI innovation, six demonstration zones and 60 AI applications. On Sept 17, city authorities issued a 22-point circular, which proposed the establishment of three to four towns and five pilot zones featuring AI, with no timeline being disclosed.