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Talent, infrastructure help China in AI race with US, experts say



Talent, infrastructure help China in AI race with US, experts say

China’s ability to develop infrastructure quickly and boost its talent pool can help the nation compete with the United States in the global artificial intelligence (AI) race, industry experts said on Thursday at the China Conference organised by the South China Morning Post.

While Chinese tech giants are unable to match their American counterparts in terms of budget and access to advanced AI chips designed by industry leader Nvidia, speedy infrastructure development on the mainland has provided a more robust foundation for AI training and inference than in the US, according to Henry He, executive director and chief financial officer at Beijing-based computing platform Kingsoft Cloud.

“When you’re looking at China, the infrastructure – especially the computing power – the network today is actually doing much better even than one or two years ago,” He said.

The determination of China’s tech workers is another competitive advantage for the country’s AI companies, according to Maryann Tseng, senior managing director of strategic investment at SenseTime, one of the mainland’s AI pioneers.

“There is significant drive from a younger generation in terms of innovation, motivation, wanting to do more, wanting to change the world,” Tseng said. “Those are the things that we can see visibly here, at home, at SenseTime.”

She added that SenseTime has cooperated with leading academic institutions in mainland China and Hong Kong in innovative AI research and development.

Amid the global AI fervour, the Biden administration has taken increasingly forceful actions to impede China’s AI development. Those moves include export curbs targeting mainland tech companies and foreign investment restrictions on hi-tech industries.

Despite the challenges, Kingsoft Cloud’s He said China still leads in the “last milestone” that involves applying AI technology in workflows in the real world. He saw potential in leveraging AI tools in highly data-based, workflow-based and rule-based working environments, as well as scenarios where the output can be clearly defined and measured.

He listed the healthcare, auditing and financial services sectors as examples where AI can be an important tool.

SenseTime’s Tseng said AI can help free workers from some tedious tasks, citing the virtual assistants powered by the company’s large language models that are used in Hong Kong by major banks, including the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

“Those repetitive, less-value work, we can outsource to AI, [so that] we can spare humans to do much more intelligent, creative critical decision-making,” Tseng said. “And this is how I see where AI could be truly instrumental.”

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