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What’s Next After the Two Sessions for AI in China

What’s Next After the Two Sessions for AI in China

March 25, 2024

China’s major annual political convening showcased its goal of widely deploying AI throughout the economy in 2024. While the specific details remain forthcoming, a look at the proposals put forth during the meetings about AI model development, data sharing, skills development, and safety give hints as to what the government may focus on in the year ahead.

The annual sessions of China’s top legislature and political advisory body—the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)—took place in Beijing between March 4 and March 11, 2024. Known as the “Two Sessions,” these meetings gathered thousands of representatives from diverse sectors of society to participate in the deliberation of state affairs and the national agenda for the coming year. One of the key events during the Two Sessions is the delivery of the Government Work Report, which highlights recent progress and sets new policy goals for the future.

The Government Work Report made clear that one of China’s top priorities for the year ahead is to pursue digital transformation by integrating AI across all sectors of the economy as part of the newly announced “AI+” initiative. This year’s Government Work Report outlined this priority as follows:

We will actively develop the digital industry, transform traditional industries with digital technologies, and fully integrate digital technology into the real economy.
We will step up R&D and application of big data and AI, launch an AI Plus initiative, and build digital industry clusters with international competitiveness.

Exactly what the AI+ initiative will entail is still an open question, as the government has not yet provided these specifics. However, during the Two Sessions, political advisors submitted proposals and offered suggestions. These proposals play a crucial role in contributing to the country’s development, as previous sessions show that submitted content will be taken into careful consideration by relevant authorities. Thus, looking into representatives’ suggestions is helpful to understand future steps China might take in specific fields after the Two Sessions.

There were four main categories for AI proposals: model development, data sharing, skills development, and safety.

First, some participants called for China to focus on building cutting-edge AI models to catch up with foreign competitors like OpenAI and replicate its success with ChatGPT. Zhou Hongyi, CEO of 360 Group, presented a two-pronged proposal for AI model development. On the first track, Zhou encouraged collaborations between large tech companies and key research institutions, similar to the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI, where those working on technological breakthroughs in AI pair up with a resource-rich company. On the second track, Zhou called for a long-term open-source AI project to establish multiple national-level, open-source AI models and an open innovation ecosystem. Echoing the desire to create national AI models, Liu Qingfeng, chairman of iFlyTek, proposed during the Two Sessions that China should build a national AI development plan to build a domestic AI ecosystem of large AI models.

Second, some representatives proposed improving data sharing. Liu also called for open sharing of high-quality data, noting that China should open and share high-quality training data from various sectors at the national level to develop its AI industry. Cao Fei, CFO of Weibo, presented a proposal to promote the development of an AI data trading market to make it easier for Chinese firms to buy and sell the high-quality data necessary to develop leading AI models while protecting the rights of data subjects. She also called for accelerating and supporting the implementation of new rules governing cross-border data flows to promote cooperation on international projects.

Third, some participants proposed ideas for training AI talent. Lei Jun, CEO of Xiaomi, pointed out that the fast development of AI technologies creates massive needs for AI talents in all fields, and strengthening AI training would be a pivotal factor in facilitating continuous industrial advancement. Thus, Lei suggested including AI classes in the K-12 syllabus and opening more AI-relevant majors in universities. He also encouraged companies to collaborate with universities to help future workers adjust to the fast-changing AI landscape. Zhou Yuan, CEO of Zhihu, also offered suggestions for training AI talent. He called for better aligning vocational training options for skilled professionals with companies’ needs and suggested colleges for technical workers collaborate with companies to set their courses accordingly. Zhang Yunquan, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, recognized the resource gap in AI education. He noted that high-quality courses, experienced professors, and advanced technologies are gathered in top universities and cities. He suggested building an educational platform for sharing resources and content about teaching AI that to more educational opportunities, including in rural areas. Like other representatives, he encouraged collaboration between companies and universities to develop AI knowledge for real-world scenarios.

Finally, some representatives focused on AI safety and oversight. Zhou Hongyi, CEO of 360 Group, pointed out that companies and local governments should pay attention to possible AI risks. Qi Xiangdong, CEO of QAX, suggested more focus on innovation around “AI+ Safety” and promoting “AI+ Safety” products in all industries. Zhang Yi, a partner at the law firm King & Wood Mallesons, advocated for moving forward with a new AI law as soon as possible that classifies AI algorithms by risk level and applies different regulatory measures for different levels. Zhou Yuan, CEO of Zhihu, proposed supervising and reviewing the data collection sources, processing methods, and compliance of large AI models, as well as conducting social impact and risk assessment for these to identify and address potential problems models in a timely manner.

The AI+ initiative is part of a history of prior efforts aimed at digital transformation of the Chinese economy. For example, the Government Work Report in 2015 proposed “Internet+” and in 2019 proposed “Smart+.” The “AI+” initiated announced this year reflects the global interest in AI and China’s focus on diligently putting AI technologies into practice. China’s attention in the past was primarily on developing the technology, and while it still seeks to lead the industry, it has signaled that 2024 will be “The Year of AI Application.”

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