China
Technological progress is key to the future
By Lu Yan  ·  2021-04-21  ·   Source: Web Exclusive

Aerial photo taken on April 15, 2020 shows people working at the construction site of a 5G base station in Chongqing, southwest China (XINHUA) 

If technological breakthroughs can be made in the next 65 years at a speed comparable to that of the past 65 years, future technological development will be even faster, famed American cryptographer and scholar Whitfield Diffie said during a session on artificial intelligence (AI) at the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2021 on April 19.

The term "artificial intelligence" was coined in 1956 by John McCarthy, a researcher who later went on to establish the AI labs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. “Sixty-five years have passed and now I believe we will face both opportunities and challenges in the coming five to 10 years,” said Max Yuan, Chairman of Shanghai Xiaoi Robot Technology Co. Ltd., at the session, adding that the technological dividends of the past 65 years will be fully released for the AI implementation across various industries, including education and healthcare, so as to promote their development.

"However, all of our current technology systems and frameworks have not actually broken through the barriers of those systems formed in the past 60 years," Yuan said. He believes that the technological bottleneck is not an issue faced by just one or two countries, but rather one that finds its roots in the entire AI system and at the core of AI technology development.

Yuan continued that today's AI is not a separate discipline or industry and requires many basic disciplines for support. Only when those disciplines and basic industries have developed to a certain stage, can AI lose the shackles of the past. "Technology was regarded as a tool during the first and second technological revolutions, but nowadays people’s expectations of AI far exceed the scope of a mere tool. That is a concern," he said.

Staff members of China Mobile test the signals of the 5G base station built at an altitude of 6,500 meters at the advance camp of Mount Qomolangma in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region on May 21, 2020 (XINHUA) 

Diffie pointed out that supervision problems, too, are worth noting. The high costs and complications of AI can make supervision extremely difficult.

It is key for companies to notify users on is the purpose of data collection in advance; otherwise consumer trust will be worn out, said Leif Johansson, Chairman of the Board of London-based multinational biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and a BFA board member.

How can the public gain a better understanding of AI? Du Lan, Senior Vice President of iFLYTEK Co. Ltd., said that this should become a part of overall education. Du suggested that AI should be included as a universal course from elementary school, into middle school, all the way to university. Wang Haifeng, CTO of Baidu Online Network Technology (Beijing) Co. Ltd., believed that the best way to understand AI is through actual products. Forming habits to use products such as intelligent navigation systems and smart speakers can exert a subtle yet transformative influence. Wang also said the fostering of AI talent, too, should feature high on the agenda.

Since the issuance of 5G licenses in June 2019, many cities across China have accelerated their construction and application of 5G facilities and set the goals for a 5G rollout. By the end of 2020, China had achieved full 5G coverage in all cities above prefecture level. This year, the country will continue to greatly expand its 5G coverage across counties and towns.

By late February this year, China had nearly 800,000 5G base stations, accounting for 70 percent of the world’s total, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The ministry also estimated 5G mobile phone shipments in China would account for 80 percent of the total shipments in the second half of this year.

Yang Jie, Chairman of China Mobile, the world’s largest telecom operator in terms of subscribers, describes 5G as omnipotent. During a session on the future of 5G at the BFA Annual Conference 2021 on April 19, Yang said 5G could be applied “from Heaven to Earth.” For example, the 5G base station built at an altitude of 6,500 meters at the advanced base camp of Mount Qomolangma. This particular station ensured the smooth operating of China’s latest expedition to re-measure the height of the mountain in 2020. Moreover, netizens could enjoy a 24/7 live stream starring the beauty of Qomolangma from the highest terrestrial 5G signal station in the world through a 4K HD live broadcast with a 360-degree VR rotating view.

An AI robot specialized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) provides health check service at the service robots exhibition area of the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing on September 7, 2020 (XINHUA) 

Yang also introduced a joint collaboration between China Mobile, Yangquan Coal Industry (Group) Co. Ltd. in Shanxi Province and other tech companies. As underground operations used to be very dangerous at Yangquan, one of the largest anthracite production bases in China, 14 5G base stations were installed at some 500 meters below sea level. This has further realized the monitoring of all underground workings and the real-time monitoring of harmful gases, ensuring efficient and safe proceedings.

"The input-output ratio remains very high. We have reduced the number of people by 20 for one borehole operation. This can help save tens of millions of RMB in total investment every year," Yang said.

(Reporting from Boao, Hainan)

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

Comments to luyan@bjreview.com

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