The Opportunity for Budding AI Startups in China

As China steps onto the world stage as *the* de facto leader in AI research, we are preparing to take an in-depth look at the technology and its applications at 4YFN Shanghai.

We focus on future tech at 4YFN, to give it a platform to accelerate its commercialization. AI is already being widely used. The winners of the 4YFN Shanghai Award last year Elevoc, for instance, developed a machine-learning voice controlled interface for devices. As a recent article in Ars Technica suggested, as soon as we learn how to do something with AI, it ceases to be AI and becomes automation.[1]

So does it make sense to focus on AI, when the technology is already in use?

The answer is a resounding ‘hell yeah’! It would make sense to focus on it for the next 5, 10 even 20 years because the technological shift is so monumental and the outcomes are likely to be so game-changing. We are standing on the precipice of awesome, wholesale change and are really just taking our first tentative steps on that journey.

The AI technologies that we are working with at the minute are weak AIs, in comparison to the full potential for strong AIs. They are good at performing single tasks. They might be able to teach themselves how to play the game given the rules or parameters to work within, but an AI that can play chess can’t necessarily play poker.

The weak AIs that we are working with today are already having a profound impact. This recent Reuters article highlighted some of the great applications for AI technologies, from assessing building damage in disaster areas to speed up recovery to predicting migration patterns based on the price of goats. Turns out that people sell their goats when they are planning to move and if people do that in large numbers it depresses the price.[2]

The potential for stronger AIs is infinite and there is no better place to explore it than in China. We will be hosting the third edition of 4YFN in Shanghai this year and are focussing much of our energies on curating AI-specific content and exhibition space. In addition to reasons outlined above, it is worth noting that China is about to overtake the US as the leader in AI research – there are more AI-related patent applications from China than from anywhere else in the world. The size of the research field there dwarfs all others except the US.

More than a third of China’s AI talent pool is located in Shanghai and that number grows as increasing numbers of Chinese engineers and scientists working overseas repatriate in China. There has been a revival of the semiconductor business in Shanghai and 11 unicorns have been born there, thanks in large part to institutional investors like the National IC Industry Fund and official policies designed to support the sector.[3]

More than half of the senior-level attendees at MWC have already expressed an interest in AI and, in 2017, China’s State Council issued a policy blueprint calling for the nation to become “the world’s primary AI innovation centre” by 2030, by which time, it forecast, the country’s AI industry could be worth US$150 billion.[4] It is a strategic priority in China and one that would be impossible to ignore in the midst of the world’s biggest tech event for the mobile industry.

For all those reasons and more, 4YFN Shanghai will diving deep into the world of AI, elevating emerging startup technologies and providing a platform to enable startups, investors and corporations to create, discover and launch new ventures together.

 


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