Artificial intelligence

China to lead the world in artificial intelligence, says top Microsoft executive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 3:28pm

China will “lead the world” in producing artificially intelligent hardware as the tech industry continues to find breakthroughs in this field, according to a Microsoft executive.

Citing examples like Baidu, Harry Shum, executive vice-president of technology and research in Microsoft, said Chinese internet companies are playing an important role in advancing artificial intelligence.

“Baidu is building autonomous driving vehicles, and many other Chinese companies are ... doing serious technology development in the artificial intelligence area,” said Shum.

“If we have the opportunity to democratise artificial intelligence technology through the cloud, we just need a few [Chinese companies] with good ideas and we can [advance] very quickly.”

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He added that he is “bullish” about the artificially intelligent hardware industry in China because cities like Shenzhen are building an ecosystem that supports the technology.

“In southern China, you can see these different layers, from manufacturing capabilities, sensors, circuit design, all of that,” said Shum. “They used to make low-end phones, but now [can you imagine] what they could do next?”

Since Satya Nadella took over the reins as Microsoft CEO in 2014, he has been trying to shift the company away from its Windows focus towards new technologies such as cloud computing, augmented reality and artificial intelligence in the form of chatbots.

The company started shipping the developer edition of its HoloLens augmented reality headset at the end of March. The headset has a holographic computer installed and allows users to view and interact with holograms while wearing it.

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Like Google, which open-sourced its Tensorflow machine learning library to developers in November, Microsoft is also looking to speed up development in artificial intelligence by making its technology available to developers.

The company opened up its bot framework in March so that developers can build on it and create intelligent chatbots, something that Nadella said could replace mobile apps and websites.

Although Microsoft’s latest chatbot Tay started spewing racist and hateful comments after interactions with malicious users and was shut down in less than 24 hours, the company has already seen some success with its artificially intelligent chatbot XiaoIce in China.

XiaoIce, which was launched on microblogging site Weibo and messaging app WeChat in June last year, interacts with its 40 million users primarily through chatting.

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“Chatting is one of the most fundamental characteristics that make us human,” said Shum, pointing out that XiaoIce is advanced to the point that people are compelled to continue interacting with the system.

The average number of interactions with XiaoIce is 23 per session, compared to about 1.5 interactions on other programs such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s own Windows 10 digital assistant Cortana, according to Shum.