China looks to school kids to win the global AI race
China wants to be a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030. To get there, it needs to equip pupils and high school students with basic AI knowledge
China has published its first artificial intelligence (AI) textbook for high school students as the country looks to an even younger generation than its huge pool of college graduates to close the gap in the global AI talent war.
The textbook, released in April and named “Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence”, comes around six months after China’s State Council called for the inclusion of AI-related courses in primary and secondary education.
AI is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines including learning, reasoning and self-correction and is becoming a transformative business force along with robotics and virtual reality. Global business value derived from AI is expected to hit US$3.9 trillion by 2022, according to a forecast by research house Gartner in April this year.
A recent report from the Tencent Research Institute highlighted that the US leads other countries in both the quantity and quality of AI personnel and that China won’t be able to solve its talent shortage in the near term despite prioritising the area in 2017. Demand for AI professionals in China may surge to 5 million in a few years’ time, according to a December 2017 report by the People’s Daily, which cited Zhou Ming, a vice director of education at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
The lead author of the textbook is Tang Xiaoou, an information engineering professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and chairman of the world’s most valuable AI startup, SenseTime Group. The textbook details the history of AI and some of its major applications, such as facial recognition-enabled public security systems and autonomous driving.
About 40 high schools across China, mainly in developed mega cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, have teamed up with SenseTime to become the first participants in the AI high school education pilot programme. A recent check on JD.com, one of China’s largest online shopping sites, showed that the book - a collaboration between SenseTime and the Mooc Center of East China Normal University with input from teachers of six middle schools in Shanghai - is currently sold out.
“The 40 senior high schools are just a start. We are going to introduce the AI course to more schools across China,” said SenseTime in an e-mailed reply to SCMP questions on Wednesday, without further elaboration.
SenseTime raised US$600 million from Alibaba Group Holding and other investors at a valuation of more than US$3 billion, according to a company statement in April. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.