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China plans AI academies to supply talent for global tech competition

China plans AI academies to supply talent for global tech competition
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China is preparing independent AI academies in Shanghai and Beijing to nurture the talent it needs to grow the artificial intelligence industry, according to an award-winning AI expert.

The Ministry of Education, which is responsible for the academies, would push for more of the institutes in more provinces, said Zhu Songchun, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and dean of the school of intelligence science and technology at Peking University.

Zhu also called for China’s academic institutes to open up to the global community as part of efforts to lead the country’s technological innovation.

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He made the remarks on May 11 at a gathering of the CPPCC, which convened more than 100 of its experts to discuss ways to boost the quality of China’s workforce and modernisation.

“[We] should revitalise the academic community and intensify efforts to attract international talent,” Zhu was quoted as saying in a report published on Monday by CPPCC Daily, a media outlet for China’s top political advisory body.

“Artificial intelligence is at the forefront of global technological competition and presents both challenges and opportunities for the quality of China’s population, job market, educational reform and technological innovation.”

The article did not specify when the AI academies would open.

Zhu said China should ensure foreign AI experts and students received the same impartial treatment as Chinese nationals if they lived and sought work in China. He also suggested using private foundations to attract global AI talent, according to the report.

Zhu recommended building an “innovation vitality index” and scaling up the teaching of AI already introduced into some Chinese universities, including by integrating AI training with other disciplines for college students, according to the report.

Vice-minister of science and technology Long Teng responded in CPPCC Daily that China would promote international talent exchanges in fields including AI, and would create standards to recognise “high-end, cutting-edge and urgently needed” foreign talent.

Long said China had worked to create and carry out policies to promote talent with a focus in key areas such as AI.

The discussion comes as Beijing doubles down its efforts in artificial intelligence in an attempt to build a high-quality talented tech force and spearhead the recovery of its sluggish economy.

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Since the California-based OpenAI took the world by storm more than a year ago, Beijing has seen AI as a potential game-changer, particularly to counter some long-term economic challenges such as a shrinking workforce and declining fertility rate.

The race to build up international talent emerges as AI becomes a frontier in the intensifying US-China competition in science and technology and adds to rivalries over the South China Sea, trade and ideology.

Zhu, who received a doctorate from Harvard University, was previously an award-winning expert in computer vision at the University of California at Los Angeles. He returned to China and joined Peking University to lead its Institute for Artificial Intelligence from 2020.

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