Beijing calls on cloud providers to support AI firms
As large language models from Western tech firms show the potential to disrupt everything from marketing to teaching to coding, China is rushing to cultivate its home-grown AI pioneers by stepping up state support.
Beijing is now seeking public opinion on a draft policy aimed at developing artificial general intelligence, or AGI, a category of AI that can theoretically carry out all human tasks. The policy’s goal, in short, is to buttress AI firms by beefing up support from cloud providers and data companies.
It’s not uncommon to see the capital city spearheading policymaking in emerging industries. Beijing, for example, was the first in letting driverless robotaxis ferry passengers on open roads under certain restrictions.
The AGI blueprint lays out action plans around three main areas: computing power, training data and applications.
The first strategy calls for closer collaboration between cloud providers, the sources of computing power and universities and companies, which consume large amounts of processing power to train large language models, multimodal learning and other AI. The policy proposes a state-backed, centralized platform that allocates public cloud resources to users based on demand.
Alibaba accounted for over a third of China’s cloud infrastructure services spending last year, coming in first, according to market research firm Canalys. Huawei, Tencent and Baidu trailed behind.
The second strategy acknowledges the lack of quality Chinese-language data and encourages the “compliant cleansing” of such datasets, which includes data anonymization, likely an effort to meet China’s new, stringent privacy law. The process will no doubt be time-consuming and labor-intensive, as we’ve seen how OpenAI relies on Kenyan workers to manually label training data and remove toxic text.
Beijing’s big data exchange, launched by the government in 2021 to facilitate data trading across facets of society, will aid the process of data sourcing.
Lastly, the policy lays out a list of potential pilot applications of AI, ranging from using AI in medical diagnosis, drug making, financial risk control and transportation to urban management.
The proposed policy also touches on the importance of software and hardware infrastructure for AI training. Amid an escalating U.S.-China competition, the latter is striving to shore up innovation in key technologies such as semiconductors.
The U.S. already restricts the export of Nvidia’s powerful AI chip H100 to China. In response, Nvidia came up with a less powerful processor for China to circumvent export controls. Domestic companies, such as tech giant Huawei and startup Biren, are also working on Nvidia alternatives.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.