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China plans leading role in global AI race on standards and computing power push

China plans leading role in global AI race on standards and computing power push
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China launched a three-year action plan on Wednesday to spearhead its work on setting standards in artificial intelligence and strengthening national computing power, as well as cement its presence in the global tech race.

The plan aims to strengthen research and develop standards on advanced chips, AI, quantum technology applications, brain-computer interfaces and computing power infrastructure, as well as step up China’s participation in global organisations.

Work on “general, foundational, ethical, security and privacy standards” in large models and generative AI will also be intensified, according to a document released by the office of Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, along with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and State Administration for Market Regulation.

In an accompanying statement, the cyberspace commission – Beijing’s top internet watchdog – said the plan is aimed at addressing challenges such as ineffective application of existing standards in the bureaucracy, as well as a need to build China’s global standing.

“There is a lack of coordination across departments, and issues such as missing, misplaced and conflicting standards have arisen from time to time,” the commission said.

“Implementation is not effective enough, the tendency to prioritise development over application is still pronounced, while global influence is insufficient and more efforts are needed to enhance expertise, participation and high-quality contribution.”

Stakeholders should focus on creating a cohesive system that integrates computing, storage, and operational capabilities, to reflect the trend towards technologies that work together seamlessly, it said.

The plan also identified a need to research and establish common standards for how computing power is accessed, scheduled and provided as a service across different types of computing power centres.

The action plan stands at the centre of Beijing’s mission to transform the Chinese economy and achieve hi-tech self-reliance. AI is seen as a game-changer amid mounting economic challenges, a shrinking workforce and US sanctions on key technologies.

While the US and China lead the global race to develop and regulate AI, other major players – such as the European and Union and South Korea – have upped the ante, with the EU unveiling the world’s first Artificial Intelligence Act in March.

Beijing has drawn up its own AI legislation and in May a draft was submitted for review to China’s top legislative body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

Last week, while attending trilateral talks with Japan and South Korea, Premier Li Qiang called for collaboration between Chinese and South Korean companies on AI, during talks with Samsung executive chairman Lee Jae-yong.

There have also been discussions with the US and EU, including China-US talks on the risks of AI in Geneva in March, and an agreement to work with Washington and Brussels to collectively manage those risks, struck at the British summit in November.

The opportunities and risks of AI have quickly pushed the technology on to the agenda in diplomatic dealings between the major powers. China is also active in the international bodies that are setting standards for emerging technologies, from AI to 5G.

China is second only to the US in aggregated computing power. Beijing regards an acceleration of the country’s capacity as the front line of its endeavour to close the gap with the US in groundbreaking technologies.

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Beijing is aiming to scale up China’s computing capacity by half by 2025, investing billions in a nationwide network that was launched by the National Data Administration in April.

The network is expected to be up and running next year, with the aim of uniting nationwide computing power and connecting prosperous eastern China and the energy-rich west of the country.

In an article published on Wednesday by Study Times, the leading party ideology newspaper, Minister of Industry and Information Technology Jin Zhuanglong said AI “has become the key variable for future development”.

“We are more capable and better positioned than ever to seize opportunities in this round of technological revolution and industrial transformation,” he wrote, adding that China has gained a “first-mover advantage” in some information technologies.

Jin also addressed the challenges posed by US sanctions and the advantages of low labour costs in some developing countries. China’s manufacturing industry is facing the dilemma of being “encircled from the front and pursued from behind”, he said.

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