China launches program to nurture more artificial intelligence talents in next five years

An artificial intelligence project utilizing a humanoid robot from French company Aldebaran Photo: Reuters

China is making great efforts to cultivate artificial intelligence talents in a race to attain global technological leadership.

In partnership with domestic technology-centric investment company Sinovation Ventures and Peking University, the Ministry of Education has unveiled the International Artificial Intelligence Training Program for Chinese Universities to nurture at least 500 teachers and 5,000 students in the field of artificial intelligence at Chinese higher education institutions in the next half-decade.

Under the five-year artificial intelligence talent cultivation project, the first batch of 100 teachers and 300 students from top Chinese universities in computer science will receive the theoretical and practical courses about deep learning, natural language processing and autonomous driving in the summer of 2018 under the guidance of an elite faculty made up of some famous artificial intelligence scientists including Turing Award winner John Hopcroft, godfather of deep learning Geoffrey Hinton and Kai-Fu Lee, head of Sinovation Ventures' Artificial Intelligence Institute.

The launch of the program came amid concerns about the lack of artificial intelligence talents, which is seen as a stumbling stock in China's efforts to grow its artificial intelligence industry.

Last December, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a three-year action plan (2018-2020) to promote the development of the artificial intelligence industry, which is part of a national strategy to build the country into a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, when the value of the artificial intelligence-related industries will surpass 1 trillion yuan.

The action plan sets four goals: widening the use of artificial intelligence-powered products such as Internet-connected cars and intelligent robots; injecting more resources into the research and development of intelligent sensors, neural network chips and open-source platforms for artificial intelligence; promoting the application of artificial intelligence in various industries especially in the manufacturing sector; and improving the environment for artificial intelligence research.

Xu Tao, director of the International Cooperation and Exchanges Department at the Ministry of Education, said that the university program for artificial intelligence talent training would be beneficial to the disciplinary construction of artificial intelligence at Chinese universities, helping it enjoy the same status with computer science and physics as first-level subject.

Xu admitted that the current disciplinary system of artificial intelligence at Chinese universities failed to produce students with good practical ability, compared with American universities, which already offered artificial intelligence-related courses a decade ago.

In recent years, some Chinese universities have begun setting up artificial intelligence majors to catch up with those universities in the United States.

As a backer of the university program for artificial intelligence talent training, Peking University has taken the initiative this year by providing master's degrees in artificial intelligence and integrating educational and industrial resources from home and abroad to create an educational system with Chinese characteristics, according to the university's Vice President Tian Gang.

On April 7, Xi'an Jiaotong University joined its Chinese pioneers by announcing plans to establish an experimental class for artificial intelligence, whose course designs are based on those top foreign universities. The experimental class will annually recruit some 40 students, who will get the opportunities to work at the artificial intelligence departments of domestic and foreign technology giants including Tencent, Huawei and Microsoft. The university will also join hands with these companies to set up joint laboratories and practice bases, which will train students in hands-on abilities.

Besides, the Ministry of Education said that it would strengthen cooperation on artificial intelligence with American universities and offer scholarships to Chinese students who want to study overseas.

Imbalance in supply and demand

However, the talent shortage in China cannot meet employers' rising demands, as many domestic and foreign technology giants have set up their artificial intelligence research facilities in China.

This anomaly is corroborated by a Goldman Sachs report which said that China only had 5 percent of the global artificial intelligence talents in 2017 but it outperformed the United States in the year to become a country where more than half of the artificial intelligence projects were based.

A People's Daily report also indicated that about 5 million artificial intelligence professionals were urgently needed in China in 2017, and this talent shortage had prompted employers to enhance the annual salary to recruit artificial intelligence talents.

China also lags behind the United States in the number of top artificial intelligence experts. A report on artificial intelligence and self-driving car published on aminer.org, which offers online service used to index and search academic social networks, showed that there were 742 top artificial intelligence experts in the world in 2017, 60 percent of whom are Americans while just 6 percent come from China.
 


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