Develop and control: Xi urges China to use AI in race for tech future

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday that China must develop, control and use artificial intelligence (AI) to secure the country’s future in the next technological and industrial revolution.

The comments underscored Beijing’s continued ambition for technological dominance despite Washington’s allegations of theft and unfair practices in relation to intellectual property.

Xi made the comments at a Politburo “group study” session about AI, after the Communist Party’s 25-member policymaking body met to decide on a new game plan to handle an expected worsening in the economy from the trade war with the United States, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Washington and Brussels have repeatedly complained about China’s state-sponsored plans such as “Made in China 2025”, in which AI is an important part.

Watch: Beijing’s plan to dominate AI technology

And while many Chinese businesses, from Tencent to Alibaba, are investing heavily into AI, this is the first time that the Chinese leader has gathered the Politburo to study the technology and required the country to embrace it.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Xi said China must develop its own AI technology, saying it was important for economic development, social progress and global geopolitics.

“AI is a vital driving force for a new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation, and accelerating AI development is a strategic issue to decide whether we can grasp opportunities,” Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Predicting Beijing’s thinking with the help of artificial intelligence and People’s Daily

Xi said China must ensure that it “occupies the high ground of AI core technology” and could firmly keep the technology in its hands by leveraging “China’s massive data and huge market potential”.

He said the country should use AI to upgrade its manufacturing, adding that it could be used in China’s pursuit of a leaner and greener way of economic development. Xi also encouraged government agencies to adopt AI.

“We need to enhance the combination of AI and social governance and develop AI systems for government services and decision-making,” Xi said, adding that public security was one field in which it could be used “in depth”.

Beijing-based commentator Zhang Lifan said Xi’s comments on AI reflected the Chinese leader’s belief in “self-reliance”.

“Xi is still quite into the idea of ‘self-reliance’ and it seems he is pretty determined,” Zhang said.

China’s cabinet, the State Council, issued a state plan for AI in July last year, outlining three main goals.

China plans to be a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030

Under the plan, China aims to match the world’s leading powers in AI by 2020; lead the world in certain aspects of the technology by 2025; and be the world’s leading power in AI by 2030, with an industry worth over 1 trillion yuan (US$143 billion) a year.

The ambitions have fanned fears overseas of Chinese dominance of the sector, prompting Beijing to soften its approach at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai last month and call for international cooperation in the area.