Interview: China, EU essential partners to each other’s AI strategy (Xinhua)

BRUSSELS, May 27 (Xinhua) — China is unique and essential for Europe’s AI strategy, and vice versa, said a European business leader.

“It is beneficial for both sides to jointly work on this topic, and this is the right time for Brussels and Beijing to deepen their cooperation,” Luigi Gambardella, president of ChinaEU, a business-led international digital association in Brussels, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Why is China so essential? Gambardella said the significance lies in China’s competitive advantages with the EU. With a population larger than Europe and the U.S. combined, China has “a natural advantage” with tons of data, which are the key to the machine-learning algorithms behind the AI boom.

He added unlike Europeans, Chinese customers have well adapted to digital life. “For instance, mobile payment is so prevalent in China that a cashless society has become a reality in many cities.”

According to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, China’s digital economy totaled 26 trillion yuan (4.07 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2017, accounting for about 32 percent of its GDP.

However, Europe is relatively less digitalized. “So China will be an appealing and promising market for the EU’s future AI companies,” said the digital association chief.

As for why China should look to Europe when developing its AI strategy. He said Europe has world-class researchers, laboratories and startups in the field of AI, making it home to the world’s leading AI research community.

He noted that the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence was founded in 1988, and is one of the world’s largest research centers in the field of AI.

Data showed that Europe accounts for largest share of top 100 AI research institutions worldwide and there are 32 European research institutions in the global top 100 for AI-related research paper citations, compared to 30 from the US and 15 from China.

As a result, Europe now is a leading player, producing more than one-fourth of the world’s industrial robots and is home to three of the world’s largest producers of industrial robots, said Gambardella.

China has set a development plan for new generation AI as its strategy in July last year to compete with the United States, which is the first country to have implemented a comprehensive AI research and development strategic plan in May 2016.

However, Europe has been slow to act. Only last month, the European Commission outlined its European Union-wide strategic plan to boost AI.

“It comes a bitter fact that Europe already lagged behind North America and Asia in private investment in AI,” said Gambardella.

Some Chinese major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin as the latest one, have announced their own measures to promote the AI industry, joined by China’s banking sector, technology giants, and numerous small and medium-sized enterprises.

“If the EU wants to be more productive and effective, it needs to deepen cooperation with its competitors, especially China,” he added.