Artificial Intelligence and China’s Future

Shruthi Anup Kumar, Research Intern, ICS

The field of artificial intelligence or AI encompasses a number of possibilities. Ranging from autonomous driving systems and language interpretation to facial recognition and military weapons, AI comprises not only the development of a robot that can move, think and talk like a human being but also includes smart programmes that are built to overcome our shortcomings and make the job easier for a human being.

In 2015, China’s central government launched the ‘Made in China 2025’ policy,[1] whereby the shift in focus from mass producing factory goods to developing high tech manufactured products by the year 2025 was announced. The effect of this policy was especially felt in the AI sector which is expected to grow from an industry of 23.9 billion Yuan (as of 2016) to 38 billion Yuan by the year 2018.[2]

Business enterprises, like Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, institutions like Tsinghua University, Beihang University, China Academy of Information and Communications Technology and various government departments have come together by investing in infrastructure construction, research and development and innovation in the field of Intelligent Manufacturing so much so that investment in 2015 reached 1.42 trillion Yuan, second only to that of the United States.[3]

As a result, China is on the fast track to catching up with the US and Japan in the field of robotics. In 2016, the robot research and development team at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei unveiled a female android project, Jia Jia that was developed in three short years. Her micro expressions, ability to converse and move like a young Chinese woman is testament to Chinese determination, ability and steady but quick progress in the field of AI.[4]

While the scientific community progresses it maybe at the cost of the society as artificial intelligence may replace human intelligence. Designations like stenographers and chauffeurs may soon become redundant due to development of AI smart programmes undercutting the hitherto labour-intensive Chinese economy. Therefore, smart programmes developed as a complement and not as a substitute to human intelligence are the need of the hour. The inevitable loss of jobs can be cushioned with comprehensive rehabilitation schemes, which will increase the social cost of developing AI in China. As Jack Ma, founder of Internet commerce platform Alibaba, states, ‘We must make machines our best partner rather than letting them replace us. Rather, we have to use internet and AI to our best advantage’.[5]

Moreover, China may have to bear the brunt of disappointing investors in the AI sector, as large inflows in terms of investments in research and development and infrastructure may not result in proportionate returns as robotics is an unchartered field. Given China’s economic position, the risky foray into AI may impact the world economy as well. Whether the impact will be favorable or not will depend on the success or failure of the Chinese AI industry.

Lately, AI is seen as the factor that will determine which country will hold the reins of power in the future. Thus, the Chinese central government is encouraging investment and innovation in the field. If the Chinese are successful their scientific progress will complement the latest changes in their governing policies, especially their increasingly assertive foreign policy, and military restructuring making them a force to be reckoned with on all fronts.


[1] China Daily. 2017. ‘Manufacturing upgrade gathers speed in China’, 17 April, (accessed on 26 May 2017).

[2] Xinhua. 2017. ‘Chinese Internet giants eye artificial intelligence’, 3 April, (accessed on 26 May 2017).

[3] China Daily. 2017. ‘Manufacturing upgrade gathers speed in China’, 17 April, (accessed on 26 May 2017).

[4] Xinhua. 2017. ‘Perfectly imperfect — experimental dialogues between China-made humanoid, world’s leading AI experts’, April 26, (accessed on 27 April 2017).

[5] South China Morning Post. 2017. ‘The Future is here: China sounds a clarion call on AI funding, policies to surpass US’, 11 March, (accessed on 27 April 2017).

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