Xi's bookshelf reflects China's AI ambitions

2 books on artificial intelligence point to aim to lead world in field

BEIJING • When Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered his New Year speech on the last day of 2017, two books on the shelf behind him drew attention at home and abroad.

The two books are about artificial intelligence: The Master Algorithm: How The Quest For The Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World, by Pedro Domingos; and Augmented: Life In The Smart Lane, by Brett King.

The Master Algorithm, published in 2015, describes how machine learning is remaking business, politics, science and war.

Augmented describes how society will be affected by technologies that will change the world more in the next 20 years than it has been changed in the past 250 years.

The Business Insider said it is interesting that Mr Xi has the two books on his bookshelf. It reflected China's ambition regarding artificial intelligence, or AI, said the report.

A report published on the WeChat account of xuexixiaozu, which is operated by the overseas edition of People's Daily, labelled the two books as "newly published leading-edge scientific books" among eight categories of books on Mr Xi's bookshelf. China's AI industry has been developing rapidly in recent years.

A national-level plan unveiled in July last year calls for the country to become the world leader in the field by 2030. 

While playing host to French President Emmanuel Macron on a state visit to China earlier this month, Mr Xi called for integrating the development strategies of China and France, strengthening innovative cooperation, and achieving common development in the areas of digital economy, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing industry.

Mr Macron said China had a great advantage in the AI sector given its enormous domestic market.

The International Monetary Fund's first deputy managing director David Lipt said in a speech in Hong Kong on Monday that China is outweighing other countries in the areas of digital commerce, fintech, robotics and artificial intelligence, reported Xinhua news agency.

Google announced last month that it would launch a new AI research centre in Beijing, as part of its AI First strategy.

Chinese tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent Holdings and Baidu have pumped massive resources into the field, developing AI technologies that can enrich social media feeds, target ads and services or even aid in autonomous driving.

Alibaba recently developed an artificial intelligence model that scored better than humans in a Stanford University reading and comprehension test. The model developed by Alibaba's Institute of Data Science of Technologies scored 82.44, edging past the 82.304 that human rivals achieved.

Alibaba said it was the first time a machine had outdone a real person in such a contest.

Microsoft achieved a similar feat, scoring 82.650 on the same test, but those results were finalised a day after Alibaba's, the company said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2018, with the headline 'Xi's bookshelf reflects China's AI ambitions'. Print Edition | Subscribe