On 20 July 2020 the State Council officially released the Plan for the Development of New Generation Artificial Intelligence (Guo Fa  No. 35).
The sixteen-page Plan is the first of its kind to be formulated by the State Council in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The rationale is specified in the first introductory section of the document, namely to respond to the fact that AI has become the new focus of international competition, and thus to spur China to firmly grasp the next stage of AI development so to (i) create a new international competitive advantage, (ii) to stimulate the development of new industries, and to (iii) enhance national security.
The Plan outlines a three-step strategy which will guide China to achieve:
- By 2020: one of the world’s most advanced level of AI technologies. By then, AI should have become an important driver of economic growth (value of core AI industries to reach 150 billion RMB, while that of AI-related industries to reach 1 trillion RMB), with several enterprises possessing world-leading competitiveness especially in a series of technology breakthroughs (e.g. in intelligent big data, intelligent cross-media, swarm intelligence, hybrid enhanced intelligence, and indigenous intelligent systems)
- By 2025: the world’s leading level for some sets of AI technologies and their application, and major breakthroughs for fundamental AI theories. By then, AI should have been well applied in areas such as smart manufacturing, smart healthcare, smart cities, smart agriculture, and national defense, with the value of core AI industries to reach 400 billion RMB, while that of AI-related industries to reach 5 trillion RMB. The year 2025 will also mark the preliminary establishment of a new legal framework for AI, including standards, safety assessments, and supervision.
- By 2030: the world’s leading levels in all AI theories, technologies and applications. By then, China should have become the global centre for AI technologies and Ai economy (value of core AI industries to exceed 1 trillion RMB, while that of AI-related industries to exceed 10 trillion RMB), with a deep and integrated IP application any production segments, social governance, as well as national security and defence, with a series of top-notch AI technology innovation bases and talents leading globally.
The Plan indicates six key tasks to implement in order to fulfil the above objectives, specifically relating to (i) the establishment of an open and cooperative AI technology innovation system; (ii) the cultivation of a high-end and highly-efficient intelligent economy; (iii) the building of a safe and convenient intelligent society; (iv) the strengthening of civil-military integration in the field of AI; (v) the establishing of a ubiquitous, safe, and efficient intelligent infrastructure system; and a (vi) forward-looking layout of a new generation of AI-related major projects.
In particular, the last tasks outlines what is referred to as a forward-looking “1+N project cluster” strategy for artificial intelligence, where:
- “1” refers to the establishment of a new AI-related Megaproject, focusing on AI fundamental theories and key technologies in areas such as intelligent big data; intelligent cross-media; swarm intelligence; hybrid enhanced intelligence; indigenous intelligent systems, autonomous unmanned control technologies;
- “N” refers to several AI-related tasks to be included in other national STI projects, in order to strengthen the link and coordination of AI with existing resources. These in particular will be:
- Strengthening the link of AI with
- Strengthening the link of AI with currently existing Megaprojects focusing on hardware development (“Core Electronic Devices, High-end General Chips and Fundamental Software”; and “Extremely large-scale Integrated Circuit Manufacturing Equipment and Technologies” Megaprojects);
- Strengthening the mutual support of AI and “2030 Innovation Megaprojects”, in particular with “Quantum communication and computing”; “Brain science and brain-like research”; “Big Data”; and “Smart manufacturing and robotics” Megaprojects;
- Increasing the support given by the NKP “High-Performance Computing” to the R&D and application of AI-related technologies;
- Increasing the application and demonstration-related tasks in “Deep-sea space station” and “Health safeguarding” 2030 Innovation Megaprojects; and in “Smart cities” and “Smart Agricultural Machinery Equipment” NKPs;
- Increasing the support of NSFC projects to AI-related cross-disciplinary research.
The Plan also outlines a design for establishing an integrated and efficient allocation of existing government and industry resources, centred on three main pillars.
- The first pillar relates to the creation of a government-guided but market-driven funding support mechanism, calling for existing government funds and programmes to actively increase their support to AI projects; encouraging leading backbone enterprises and industry alliances to set up AI development funds, as well as non-government actors to support AI start-ups and SMEs through angel investments, risk investments, and venture capital investments. Public-Private Partnership models will also be actively explored to encourage all actors to participate in the development, application and commercialisation of AI technologies.
- The second pillar relates to the formation of clusters of AI innovation bases, particularly centering around State Key Laboratories, Enterprise State Key Laboratories, National Engineering Laboratories, as well as makerspaces and incubators.
- The last pillar calls for the active utilisation and combination of international resources with domestic ones. In particular, domestic enterprises are encouraged to launch cooperation with internationally-renowned universities and research structures, as well as to “going global” by providing facilitation and support for international M&As and for the establishment of overseas R&D centres. World-renowned scientists and teams will be constantly attracted to come to China, particularly through the “Thousand Talents Plan” and in the fields of neurocognition, robot learning, auto-piloting vehicles and smart robotics. International enterprises and research structures will also be encouraged to establish AI R&D centres in China. Finally, China will put forth significant efforts in promoting the establishment of international AI cooperation bases and joint research centres with partners along the Belt and Road initiative. China will also seek to establish international organisations in the field of AI, and to lead the formulation of AI-related international standards.
The line government body leading AI affairs and supervising the implementation of the Plan will be Leaders’ Working Group on S&T Institutional Reforms and the Construction of an Innovation System. The Ministry of Science and Technology, through the Inter-Ministerial Joint Council, will be responsible for launching AI-related national projects, and for ensuring the coordinated integration with other existing programmes. An AI planning and promotion office will be established within MOST, while a strategic consulting committee and several think tanks will be established for advising on policy- and decision-making issues and for conducting AI-related research.
* Note: An official press release was also published by the State Council in English: http://english.gov.cn/policies/latest_releases/2020/07/20/content_281475742458322.htm
* Note 2: The publication of the Plan was followed by an AI-related State conference in November 2017 which established: 1) the “New Generation Artificial Intelligence” 2030 Innovation Megaproject; 2) the New Generation AI Promotion Office, formed by 15 different government/party bodies; 3) the New Generation AI Strategic Advisory Committee, with the list of members published online; and 4) the first batch of National AI Open Innovation Platforms, namely: Baidu’s Autonomous Driving National AI Open Innovation Platform; Aliyun’s City Brain (Urban Cognition) National AI Open Innovation Platform; Tencent’s Medical Imaging National Open Innovation Platform; and iFlyTek’s Intelligent Voice National AI Open Innovation Platform. The same conference also highlighted that the role of enterprises as main AI market actors should be strengthened, and international cooperation in R&D of AI technologies and research should be deepened.