Chinese lab targets big breakthroughs in AI

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BAAI opened a year later, in Zhongguancun, a district of Beijing designed to replicate American innovation hubs such as Boston and Silicon Valley. It’s home to a few big tech companies inspired by Western successes, like PC maker Lenovo and search engine Sogou, as well as countless inexpensive electronics stores.

In recent years, electronics stores have started to disappear and dozens of startups have sprung up, many of which have focused on finding lucrative uses for AI – in manufacturing, robotics, logistics, education, finance and other fields.

BAAI will move into a new building not far from the current offices later this year. The location is both symbolic and convenient, within walking distance of China’s two most prestigious universities, Tsinghua and Beijing, as well as the Zhongguancun Integrated Circuit Park, which the government opened last year to attract business. local microchips.

The pandemic has cut off visits to China. I have already met academics working at BAAI and talked to others there on Zoom. An administrative assistant gave me a tour of the WeChat video. Through the small screen, I saw engineers and support staff seated in an open-plan office between lush potted plants. Plaques on the wall in the reception area identify academy departments, including intelligent information processing and structured facial analysis. A large panel outlines the principles that guide the center: Academic thinking. Basic theory. Top talents. Business innovation. Development policy.

A group of BAAI explores the mathematical principles underlying machine learning algorithms, an effort that can help improve them. Another group is focusing on neuroscience knowledge to create better AI programs. Today’s most famous machine learning approach – deep learning – is loosely inspired by how neurons and synapses in the human brain learn from input. A better understanding of the biological processes behind animal and human cognition could lead to a new generation of smarter machines. A third group in the academy is focusing on the design and development of microchips to run AI applications more efficiently.

Many researchers affiliated with the BAAI are doing cutting-edge work. A working on ways to create deep learning algorithms more efficient and compact. Another studies “neuromorphic” computer chips it could fundamentally change the way computers work by mirroring biological processes.

China has some of the best academic AI talent, but it still has fewer top experts than the United States, Canada, or some European countries. A study Paulson Institute AI research papers published in June found that China and the United States produce about the same number of AI researchers each year, but the vast majority of them end up working in the United States- United.

The issue has become more urgent in recent times, after the Trump administration imposed sanctions that capitalize on China’s inability to manufacture the most advanced microchips. The United States has targeted the most Huawei, which he accuses of channeling data to the government, including for espionage, cutting off its supplies of chips necessary for the manufacture of high-end smartphones. In 2019, the United States Chinese sanctions widened to ban U.S. companies from doing business with multiple AI companies, accusing them of providing technology for state surveillance. President Biden may take a different approach from Trump’s, but he’s unlikely to ignore China’s technological threat.

Tiejun Huang, co-director of BAAI, speaks attentively, after a long pause to collect and translate his thoughts. He says the center is modeled on Western institutions that bring together different disciplines to advance AI. Despite the difficult relationship between the United States and China, he said, it is crucial for the academy to forge ties with such institutions. He sent researchers to visit MILA in Canada and the Turing Institute in the UK, two of the world’s largest centers of expertise in AI. AI scientists from US institutions, including Princeton and UC Berkeley, sit on the academy’s advisory board.

The Chinese government is not alone in investing in AI. The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency supports research with potential military uses. Yet many in the West are wary of how the Chinese state might use technology to promote its interests and values ​​- for example, by tying digital technologies to the Belt and Road Initiative, which establishes economic and infrastructural links. with neighboring countries. With clear ties to the Chinese government, it is not difficult to see a broader agenda in BAAI’s work.

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