'China brain' project seeks military funding as Baidu makes artificial intelligence plans
Robin Li wants China to become a world leader in artificial intelligence
Robin Li Yanhong, the founder and chief executive of online search giant Baidu, is looking to the nation's military to support efforts which may make the mainland the world leader in developing artificial intelligence (AI) systems.
One of the country's wealthiest people, Li has proposed in his capacity as a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) that the mainland establish the "China Brain" project.
Li said the proposed project would be a massive, "state-level" initiative that could be comparable to how the Apollo space programme was undertaken by the United States to land the first humans on the moon in 1969.
He told reporters on the sidelines of the CPPCC in Beijing that the military was welcome to join the project because it was a sector with extensive funding resources that had played a significant role in technology innovation and had huge demand for the latest hi-tech advances.
American computer scientist John McCarthy coined the term "artificial intelligence" in 1955, defining AI as "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines".
Under Li's proposal, the China Brain project would focus on specific research areas: human-machine interaction, so-called big data analysis, automated driving, smart medical diagnosis, smart drones and robotics technologies for both military and civilian use.
"The government should support capable companies in building an open platform offering AI-related basic resources and public services," he said.
In addition, Li proposed that the platform "be kept open and competitive, rather than being made only available to select research institutes".
"A market mechanism should help transform AI-related research into actual results and products, and push forward integration and innovation in traditional industry, the service sector and the military," he said.
Baidu, the dominant provider of online search services on the mainland, has already accelerated its AI efforts with the recruitment last year of former Google computer scientist Andrew Ng.
A long-time researcher at Stanford University whose family is from Hong Kong, Ng founded Google's own AI initiative called "Google Brain" in 2011. He now serves as Baidu's chief scientist based in San Francisco.
"Whoever wins artificial intelligence will win the internet in China and around the world. Baidu has the best shot to make it work," Ng said in a Bloomberg report last October.
Baidu last year also hired Zhang Yaqin, who helped Microsoft build on the mainland the software giant's biggest technology research operation outside the US. He was appointed Baidu's president for new business.
Ricky Lai, a research analyst at Guotai Junan International, has described Baidu's new recruits as part of the company's goal to "enter untapped markets and expand existing operations".