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China launches new support for AI as tech war with US heats up

China will accelerate the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in science and technology research, the newly empowered Ministry of Science and Technology has announced, as Beijing directs more resources to emerging technologies amid intensifying competition with the United States.

The plan, dubbed Artificial Intelligence for Science, was launched by the science ministry and the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.

The project will focus on major problems in basic disciplines, as well as research needs in key science and technology fields, such as drug development, gene research and biology breeding, Xinhua said.

Xu Bo, director of the Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who is the head of the project, said that AI technology has shown “powerful capabilities beyond traditional methods of mathematics or physics in many scientific research fields”.

“But in terms of the systematic layout of artificial intelligence-driven scientific research, design, interdisciplinary integration etc. There is still room for improvement,” Xu was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The project will strengthen system layout and overall guidance, so as to promote the deep integration of AI into science and technology research, promote the opening and convergence of resources and enhance innovation capabilities, according to the ministry.

It also pledged to bring together interdisciplinary research and development teams, and to promote international academic exchanges to offer solutions to common scientific challenges, including cancer treatment and climate change.

The central government has been promoting research and development in AI and has pledged favourable policies to drive more investment. AI was identified as a key industry in China’s controversial “Made in China 2025” industrial plan in which it was stated that China’s goal was to become a global leader in the field by 2030.

The world’s second largest economy now has an edge in terms of academic papers, patents and cross-border and global AI funding. According to a forecast report by consulting firm IDC last year, China’s AI investment is expected to reach US$26.69 billion in 2026, accounting for about 8.9 per cent of global investment, making it the second largest investment destination in the world.

Research and development has become more urgent for China as the US has ramped up export controls on advanced technologies like semiconductors and AI. AI computer chip designers, such as Nvidia and AMD, have been barred from selling their high-end products for AI and supercomputing to China.

Washington has introduced sweeping export controls to prevent China from using American technology to advance its military capabilities, while Beijing has criticised the US for abusing export control measures to maliciously block and suppress Chinese companies.

At the 20th Party Congress last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China must promote integrated development of “strategic emerging industries” and grow “a new group of growth engines” that include AI and new energy sectors, labelling them as the new “engines” of future growth. South China Morning Post

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