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Artificial intelligence

Tencent releases open platform to help drive AI projects at other companies

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 6:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 6:32am

Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings is looking to push its advances in artificial intelligence technology as the operating platform for other companies to pursue their own AI initiatives.

“There’s an immense market potential in helping companies and whole industries upgrade their capabilities with AI,” said Hou Xiaonan, the general manager of Tencent’s AI Open Platform and vice-president of its mobile internet group, at a forum on Tuesday under the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai.

Hou launched Tencent’s open platform at the event, marking a major campaign for the Shenzhen-based firm to get its AI expertise adopted freely by individual developers and enterprises, a company spokesman said.

The platform will enable enterprises across various industries harness the capabilities of Tencent’s AI Lab, which is focused on machine-learning technology; super app WeChat, which provide speech recognition and natural language processing; and its Computer Vision Research Centre, which is focused on facial recognition technology, according to a statement from the company.

The application of AI technology in industries is still in the early stages, according to Hou. Without specifying if the numbers represent global, Asia-Pacific or China estimates, Hou said less than 15 per cent of companies have adopted AI and that 53 per cent of enterprises have yet to make their operations digital.

Hou said the platform will provide more than 100 system interfaces for various industries. It has already been used by early adopters to identify handwritten documents or details in garment manufacturing process, he said.

Hong Kong-listed Tencent will enable access to its open AI platform via subsidiary Tencent Cloud and the offering will be focused on China.

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The company’s move to make its AI capabilities open has come at a time when China is fast-developing into a global AI powerhouse and more companies around the world aim to create new sources of business value using the technology.

About 28 per cent of respondents in a joint survey released on Tuesday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston Consulting Group said AI solutions have already led to changes in the business model of their organisations, while nine out of 10 believe AI will create new value for their operations in the next five years. This study involved more than 3,000 participants in 126 countries and 300 executives from China.

Betting big on the core technology behind an array of cutting-edge applications from autonomous driving to facial recognition, China’s State Council last July laid out a three-step road map to AI supremacy. It included the goals of building a domestic AI industry worth about US$150 billion and to make the country an “innovation centre for AI” by 2030.

China’s AI industry has already attracted the most funding, accounting for 60 per cent of all global investment from 2013 to the first quarter of this year, but still lags behind the US in terms of AI talent, according to a report released last Friday by Tsinghua University, the top academic research institution on the mainland.

“AI, big data and cloud computing comprise a new form of infrastructure, and Tencent will use these to become a better ‘connector’ and ‘creator’ of ecosystems,” chief executive officer Pony Ma Huateng said on Monday at the opening of the AI conference in Shanghai.

Still, Tencent’s open platform initiative trails that of Alibaba Group Holding, which had earlier launched its AI solutions for use in China and overseas markets.

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New York-traded Alibaba, the parent company of the South China Morning Post, announced last month a push into Southeast Asia, where subsidiary Alibaba Cloud is offering a suite of cloud computing solutions – including machine learning – to help retailers in the region embrace digitalisation and provide the kind of online-offline shopping experience that is already commonplace in China. In June, Alibaba introduced a digital tool that uses AI technology to help farmers in China boost their efficiency, crop yields and income through the use of big data. Earlier this year, Alibaba Cloud started offering big data processing capabilities, among other solutions, in India.