Artificial Intelligence

Tianjin $16B fund proves the next big tech war will be fought over AI

The AI-development fund aims to put China on par with the US, the current leader in AI and machine learning technology.

The northern Chinese port city of Tianjin has announced plans to set up a fund worth $16 billion (100 billion Chinese Yuan) to support the growth of AI research and boost China's mission of becoming an AI leader.

The Chinese government has formalized a goal of becoming an AI world leader by 2030, a move that could be accelerated by the massive investment made by Tianjin.

The South China Morning Post reports that Tianjin will fill the fund through donations from Chinese and foreign financial organizations, private enterprise, and other market players. It plans to offer incentives of up to 2 million Yuan per person in order to attract top AI talent.

The EU also announced a new fund for AI research in April 2018 that amounts to $1.78 billion (€1.5 billion), but still only amounts to a fraction of Tianjin's planned fund.

Tianjin's, and thus China's, bid to massively fund AI research to compete with the US and European Union paints a clear picture of the future of international tech arms races: It's going to be all about AI.

China vs. the US for AI dominance

As previously reported by TechRepublic, China has led the world in AI investment since 2014, while Microsoft, IBM, and Google (all based in the US) are considered individual leaders in the field despite China's dominance in capital investment.

That could very well change with Tianjin's $16 billion fund, which could spark investment inside China as well as potentially pulling in overseas talent tempted by huge monetary incentives.

Not only will this latest tech race between the US and China have an effect on consumer spaces, it will also have an impact on military might. As stated in the TechRepublic article mentioned above, reports from both the Pentagon and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) have warned of a growth in Chinese government and military AI spending.

SEE: Research: Companies lack skills to implement and support AI and machine learning (Tech Pro Research)

In particular, CNAS warned that China's research has resulted in it no longer being a technological inferior to the US military—it should now be considered a peer and could even overtake the US's capabilities in the coming years.

Current US military AI technology requires a human to make offensive decisions conducted by machines. Whether or not China would adopt a similar law remains to be seen.

Former US deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, along with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, stated that AI research, and China's very real potential to surpass us in it, could be another "Sputnik moment" for the US government.

The US, Work said, doesn't have a cohesive AI strategy and risks losing the supremacy battle to China. Tianjin's new $16 billion fund could be a final nail in the coffin.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:
  • The Chinese city of Tianjin announced plans to create a $16 billion AI research fund, which includes 2 million Yuan in individual incentives to attract qualified researchers.
  • Tianjin's fund dwarfs a similar one recently established by the EU and will put China further ahead of the US in funding for AI research. It could tip the scales in the growing AI arms race and finally position China as the leader for the future of AI.

Also see

chinadata.jpg
BirgitKorber, Getty Images/iStockphoto

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox