What we can learn from China and the US to advance AI
China and the US continue to lead the world in AI development with their efforts to outline national strategies and strengthen talent.
Artificial intelligence (AI) already affects our everyday life — from scrolling through social media feeds to getting driving directions. AI has the potential to significantly improve business efficiencies and develop new solutions, creating growth in a wide range of industries such as retail, finance and health. PwC anticipates the application of AI will support 14 percent growth in the global GDP by 2030, amounting to $15.7 billion.
As two of the most powerful economies, China and the US are also giants in AI development. Both countries are racing to develop the most advanced technologies and applications, while investing in the broader ecosystem to boost the work of private companies.
Both are also pushing to produce more talent in AI. Currently, the US is ranked as having the most AI experts in the world at 28,000 while China ranks second with 18,000, according to Tsinghua University.
China’s national AI strategy
Like with many of its grand strategies, China has developed a comprehensive three-stage blueprint to develop AI technology and talent.
- Stage 1: By 2020 the country aims to have constructed sufficient infrastructure for AI with priority given to big data and autonomous cars.
- Stage 2: By 2025 China will push for a period of major change with full AI integration in medicine, urban infrastructure, manufacturing and agriculture.
- Stage 3: By 2030 China aims to be the global leader and center of AI. It will focus on using AI to develop its society, national defense system and industries.
To reach these goals within the next 10 years it is crucial for China to have a talented workforce. China has been quick to realize this with several initiatives: working with Chinese tech companies for education, including AI in primary and secondary curricula and investing $2.1 billion to build an AI research center in Beijing.
One such initiative is the partnership between the Shanghai Huangpu District Education Bureau and SenseTime, a famous Chinese unicorn startup that develops AI technology to remember and analyze faces, pictures and objects. Together they are developing an enhanced curriculum to teach AI technology in classrooms. SenseTime AI experts are brought into classrooms to share their knowledge and expertise. Forty schools in large cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Kunming are using the “Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence” textbook written by SenseTime president and Information Engineering professor Tang Xiaoou.
More AI labs are being set up in high schools where students are able to conduct real experiments involving facial and gesture recognition. A special scholarship is also given to students who perform well in school.
At the university level, China’s education ministry has allowed 35 educational institutes to offer AI undergraduate programs including famous institutes such as Beijing Jiaotong University, Beihang University, Nanjing University and Xi’an Jiaotong University. This move seeks to strengthen efforts to develop AI talent by educational institutes, which were already offering special courses and workshops.
With the integration of AI throughout the education system, the Chinese government is adopting a long-term view and accelerating the development of talent to deliver greater AI innovation in the future.
The US AI initiative
On the other side of the world, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to encourage the development of AI with the American AI Initiative in February 2019. The initiative consists of strategic goals to promote AI research, reduce regulations that could be barriers to greater AI adoption, equip the US workforce with AI expertise and support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Another goal is to protect the US’ advantage in AI and instill confidence that the country is maintaining leadership in developing AI technology and standards.
While it remains to be seen how this executive order has advanced AI, the US still remains the main source of AI talent. For decades both domestic and international students compete to study at the world’s top universities located in the US, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley and Harvard University. With many international students choosing to work in the US after graduation, the country has been able to attract talent from all over the world.
Realizing that AI education should start as early as high school, top universities are organizing activities to reach out to high school students. Stanford University conducts a three-week summer camp called AI4all to teach high school students about AI through the university’s research work. At the camp, students learn how AI is affecting the world: using natural language processing (NLP) to understand human language, identifying tweets for help during Hurricane Sandy, detecting cancer in genetic cells and developing autonomous cars.
In addition to specialized camps, high schools are also piloting AI classes. The Montour School District is partnering leading universities, such as Carnegie Mellon and MIT, and companies, such as Google, to teach students AI. Subjects for the pilot classes include AI ethics, AI autonomous robotics, AI computer science, and even a class on using AI to write songs. This in-depth exploration of AI helps students easily understand how AI can be used in real-world applications.
What can Thailand learn from this?
Three important factors drive the development of AI: a focused national strategy, partnerships between the private and education sectors, and developing talent to enhance knowledge.
Thailand needs a national strategy to ensure it is moving in the right direction. What’s more, the national strategy should have a clear timeline and measurable goals to hold people to account. For instance, the government can expedite the application of AI in the business sector first so various government departments can adapt their policies after they have already been piloted.
Secondly, educational institutes and the private sector must work together to reform education to answer market needs. Having insights from the private sector is crucial in making sure the curriculum provides up-to-date skills that can be applied outside the classroom. AI classes could start as early as the secondary level with teachers being upskilled and experts engaged. Thailand needs tech companies to take the first step in launching educational programs rather than waiting for the ecosystem to be ready. Everyone needs to play their part in getting it ready.
Lastly, the kingdom needs to attract Thai nationals working abroad in the field of AI, largely in large US corporations, to return to the country to share their knowledge and develop the field more quickly. Bangkok Bank is doing this by providing scholarships to talented employees to further their studies in leading universities such as MIT in the field of innovation and technology. When scholars return, they can then share what they have learned with the organization and their co-workers.