China adds Huawei, Hikvision to ‘national team’ on AI efforts

Sarah Dai, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 30 2019 11:37 AM | Updated as of Aug 30 2019 02:23 PM

China adds Huawei, Hikvision to ‘national team’ on AI efforts 1
A Hikvision surveillance camera is seen at the venue for a State Council Information Office (SCIO) briefing in Beijing, China Aug. 15, 2019. Florence Lo, Reuters

China has named Huawei Technologies and Hikvision Digital Technology as new national champions in artificial intelligence (AI), among the latest batch of companies tasked to spearhead efforts in that field.

Shenzhen-based Huawei, the world's largest telecommunications equipment supplier, will take the lead in the research on AI infrastructure and software. Surveillance systems giant Hikvision will cover initiatives related to video perception.

The other new national AI champions introduced on Thursday at the Shanghai World Artificial Intelligence Conference include Hong Kong-listed smartphone vendor Xiaomi Corp, which will focus on smart home ware; e-commerce company, on smart supply chain; and internet security company Qihoo 360 Technology, handling online safety

Facial recognition start-ups Megvii and Yitu were tasked to cover the areas of image perception and image computing, respectively.

China now has a total of 15 national AI champions since it started this initiative in 2017.

The announcement marked the Chinese government's stepped up recruitment of private companies and research institutions with "core technologies" to lead key projects in advancing AI development in the country, with the goal of closing the AI tech gap with the US by 2030.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology last year drew up 17 key areas as priorities for AI development, and called on Chinese hi-tech companies and research institutions to take part in the national team.

Beijing named its first batch of national AI champions in 2017. These include Baidu for autonomous driving, Alibaba Group Holding for smart city initiatives, Tencent Holdings for computer vision in medical diagnosis and iFlyTek for speech recognition. SenseTime was added last year, with its focus on intelligent vision. New York-listed Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

The country's focus on AI technologies coincides with the full embrace of facial recognition and its integration into the daily lives of the Chinese population, with public security authorities using it to spot suspected criminals and even jaywalkers. Facial recognition has also been adopted in the retail, finance, entertainment and transport sectors.

The addition of Huawei and Hikvision, however, has come amid trade tensions between the United States and China, which has led Washington to put the telecoms gear maker on its trade blacklist. The US recently granted a reprieve to Huawei, allowing it to buy hardware, software and services from American hi-tech suppliers.

Hangzhou-based Hikvision, meanwhile, has sharply increased its stockpile of components and finished products amid concerns that the US may bar it from doing business with American suppliers like it did with Huawei.

At the Shanghai conference, local government officials unveiled four major tracks for city to double down on AI development, including smart connected vehicles, medical imaging-assisted diagnosis, visual image identity recognition and smart sensors.

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