China is rapidly catching up to the US in artificial intelligence (AI), especially in the areas of data and adoption as Beijing strives to become a global leader in the field by 2030, according to the authors of a new think-tank report. China “appears to be quickly reducing the gap” in AI, says the report from the global Center for Data Innovation released on Monday. “Compared with its Western counterparts, China’s techno-utilitarian culture is more willing to adopt AI if it provides a broader social good, even if some individuals believe there are ethical questions concerning AI.” With nearly 1.4 billion people and 829 million internet users, many experts argue China lends itself to rapid AI adoption as it has access to huge data sets, the “oil” for future AI development. Out of 100 total available points in this report’s scoring methodology, the US led with 44.2 points, followed by China with 32.3 points and the EU with 23.5 points. AI has assumed a key role in Beijing’s ‘Made in China 2025’ master plan, which promises to lift the country’s industries – from robotics and aerospace to new materials and new energy vehicles – up the value chain, replacing imports with local products and building global champions able to take on Western giants in cutting-edge technologies. A three-step road map involves China keeping pace with leading AI technologies and applications in general by 2020; achieving AI breakthroughs by 2025; and finally to be the world leader in a domestic industry worth US$150 billion by 2030. AI will complement rather than take over humans, experts say To be sure, the US still leads in AI in the areas of talent, research, development, and hardware. Notably, China still lags in high-quality AI talent and in the development of the chips that power AI systems, according to the report. However, China is quickly applying artificial intelligence technologies to many walks of life, from catching criminals, detecting cancers to developing self-driving cars. Internet giants such as Baidu, Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding have invested billions of dollars in AI to enhance their ecosystems. “China indeed is leading in the adoption of AI, because the market need is huge. Chinese people also tend to accept the new technology relatively quickly [compared to Western markets],” said Gu Wenjun, an analyst at China-based semiconductor research firm ICWise. “China’s AI companies seem very active but when it comes to chips, the key to winning the real AI battle, we are still behind.” China’s government is pouring money into the domestic chip industry to achieve greater self-sufficiency. The state-backed China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, known as the Big Fund, aims to raise as much as 200 billion yuan in its second financing round to invest in home-grown chip companies, according to a Bloomberg report in March. The think-tank report also pointed out that AI applications often flourish when there is greater cooperation. For example, researchers at the University of California in San Diego trained an AI system on medical records from 1.4 million visits to a medical center in Guangzhou. The system can diagnose asthma with more than a 90 per cent accuracy rate and gastrointestinal disease with 87 per cent accuracy.