How China Is Trying to Become the World’s Leader in Artificial Intelligence

GTCOM looking to make in-roads in America

AI technology is ushering in a new era for research and education. And if China ends up wielding most influence over its future, GTCOM could play a key role. Getty Images

China’s ambitions in artificial intelligence are insatiable. Wary that the Middle Kingdom is trailing the United States (the current leader in the field), government officials outlined a blueprint last summer to make the country the world’s uncontested AI power in the next decade.

By a host of metrics, China is already tilting the scale.

AI-related patent submissions in China almost tripled between 2010 and 2014 compared with the previous five years, while Chinese investments account for 48 percent of global AI startup funding. According to CB Insights, based on keyword searches of abstracts and titles in 2017, China has far outpaced America in AI-related patent publications: for “deep learning,” 652 compared with 101; for “artificial intelligence,” 641 to 130; for “machine learning,” 882 to about 770. 

Tech giants such as Baidu are adding sites in the Silicon Valley to attract a depth of AI talent that matches their objectives. Alibaba recently unveiled plans to invest $15 billion in research labs all over the world (countries include America, Russia, Israel and Singapore); the money is intended to directly serve local brands and tech clusters with homegrown AI applications covering data intelligence, the Internet of Things, financial tech, quantum computing and human-machine interaction.

What’s more, the Chinese government has made AI-driven education a cornerstone of its national strategy. Academics and policy makers are increasingly looking to AI to reform China’s education and public research, as well as modernize classrooms. According to market research firm IT Juzi, education and academic research rank third behind medicine and automobiles among industries that paved the way for unprecedented change thanks to AI.

The Chinese government has made AI-driven education a cornerstone of its national strategy.

Companies such as Hujiang, a leading online education site, are embedding image- and voice-recognition tools in their learning solutions to improve pupil-teacher interactions.

Even more interestingly, while established players like Tencent and Alibaba regard AI as an opportunity to leapfrog foreign competitors, midsize Chinese AI firms lacking brand and name recognition are expanding abroad, hoping to lure new customers in Western markets.

To shift the balance eastward, they must first prove that they can partner and compete on an equal footing with leading American players such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.

GTCOM is one of those midsize AI firms looking to America’s shores to bolster its capabilities and compete on a bigger stage.

The company provides global, cross-language, intelligent solutions for companies in scores of global industries, processing 120 million pieces of data from over 112 countries. The platform mines 30 million news articles and 500 million pieces of social data daily. Since 2014, it has accumulated tens of billions of data rows from social platforms, e-commerce websites, forums and blogs in more than 60 languages. The company has grown briskly despite its lack of a website. Last year, it invested $45 million in research and development and $12 million in its Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithm, which supports over 30 languages and over 900 language pairs.  

Last month, GTCOM CEO Eric Yu attended New York’s AI Summit on education and research to make a forceful pitch for his company’s forays into the United States and its ability to achieve growth, dominance and scale outside mainland China. His main motivation was to unveil the company’s new global partner program, which focuses on local channels, distributors and resellers, but also consulting and market research firms, PR agencies and professional and financial services.

During the panel, Yu reaffirmed that GTCOM made “solid progress entering the American market.” He added that in 2017, GTCOM successfully launched JoveBird, its big data platform which provides data export analysis, automatic market alerts and cross-language processing services to investment firms, rating agencies and commercial and investment banks. JoveBird has already entered technology partnerships with Amazon, Cisco and Union Pay. The company has vowed to set up its US subsidiaries in New York and the Silicon Valley this year to support its American partners and clients.

GTCOM has also recently introduced JoveEye, an intelligent research platform that enables academics and scientists to conduct in-depth research in highly specialized fields; it also facilitates technology transfers between university departments for patent valuation, licensing and litigating data. “Today, researchers and innovators need to be informed about intellectual properties long before they dive into a specific research,” Yu said at the summit. “It is in this area that JoveEye will assist academic institutions, R&D professionals, and intellectual property professionals to make better business decisions with scientific research data at their fingertips.”

What sets GTCOM apart, besides the vastness of its data collection capabilities? Yu is quick to stress its NLP algorithm’s ability to understand human emotions. The technology helps machines comprehend happiness, anger and so on.

“It’s like educating children to understand the world,” he said. “Consider that we provide computers with textbooks. For each tagged sentiment, we have to use millions corpus with high quality to feed into our model and perform the training process over and over again. That’s the only way to guarantee the accuracy and pertinence of sentiment.”

AI technology is ushering in a new era for research and education. And if China ends up wielding most influence over its future, GTCOM could play a key role.

When asked whether the current administration’s hard line on America-China trade relations could hamper GTCOM’s plans, Yu adopted a diplomatic tone. He dismissed the idea that AI could become a battleground, advancing that China’s rapid development in IT, 5G networks, semiconductors and artificial intelligence had kept pace with Europe, Japan and the United States: “We know there is a hostile climate, but we are focused on abiding by  international rules and regulations in overseas market. And as long as we are able to compete in a fair environment, we hope to build more partnerships with foreign brands and organizations.”

AI technology is ushering in a new era for research and education. And if China ends up wielding most influence over its future, GTCOM could play a key role.

Alexis Chemblette is a Brooklyn-based reporter and contributor to Adweek.