Tech moves towards superpower status

From medicine to missiles, China is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) in its push to become a superpower.

Beijing announced in August last year that its next generation of cruise missiles will incorporate a high degree of AI technology, such that they may be able to better seek out targets or deal with "more tasks in-flight".

In February, the National Development and Reform Commission created a national laboratory for AI research, pulling together the country's top institutions in the field, such as Fudan University, to collaborate with private firms like search giant Baidu.

And Baidu, like China's other Internet giants, has also made separate, big bets on AI.

Its co-founder, Mr Robin Li, has said that the bulk of the US$2.9 billion (S$4 billion) it spent on research and development in recent years was in AI, such as in facial and voice recognition and self-driving cars.

Last September, it created a venture capital arm with a US$200 million war chest to invest in AI and related projects.

In March, rival Alibaba, which owns Taobao and Alipay, launched a cloud AI service targeted at the healthcare and manufacturing sectors that it said has applications in medical imaging, drug development and hospital management.

And last month Tencent, the developer of WeChat, launched its first AI research laboratory in the United States, with an ex-Microsoft scientist at the helm.

A constellation of smaller but well-funded tech players are also vying in the sector, such as iCarbonX, a start-up that uses AI to deconstruct diseases and their treatments, and Face++, whose face-recognition technology is being used in place of passwords by 150 million Alipay users to make mobile payments.

Lim Yan Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Tech moves towards superpower status'. Print Edition | Subscribe