Sino Singularity: China’s Massive User Scale & Its Translation in the AI Wars

China is giving the U.S. a run for its money, in the growing AI – Artificial Intelligence War. 

By Ryan Carroll, Editor-at-Large

July, 2019.


With massive amounts of capital and incentives coming from Beijing to develop this ever growing aspect of everyday life. As smart devices become ingrained in the ubiquitous society we are becoming apart of.

While the Central Government of China has made things like green technology, electric vehicles, and AI a priority of the country’s continued economic growth. Governments such as the United States, in the current administration and party rule, have seemingly considered these aspects of emerging technologies to be of no concern to the betterment of society.

In the U.S. this sector’s growth have solely been led by private technology companies, and start-ups, with little to no infrastructure, tax, or other form of incentives, to support its means. Leading China to gain ground on the development of these ever important technologies.

But, even with all of this support and assistance to Chinese internet & tech companies, by Beijing, with instances of their apparent inability to fail, no matter what the cost may be to their AI R&D. Will it in the end, truly matter, or will their Western counterparts slowly-but-surely regain their ground, and overtake Chinese AI in all parts of the world – but China?

China’s State Council instituted the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, and predicts the market to reach $148BnUSD by 2030. Leading many industry experts to say that, China will take over the U.S. in AI development within the next decade. As 2.1% of the Chinese GDP goes to R&D development, which includes subsidies for AI.

Apart of this growth will be a, “research park” – AI hub – that will be built outside of Beijing for a planned $2.1BnUSD. The technology park will focus on, big data, cloud computing, biometrics, and deep learning; all for the advancement of Artificial Intelligence research.

Baidu’s own Robin Li, who invested $1.2Bn of Baidu’s $9Bn Q1 through Q3 revenues, back into AI R&D, has stated “China is a very large and uniform market … everyone speaks the same language; they all obey the same law.”

Herein lies the problem at hand. The purpose of Artificial Intelligence is, to learn, firstly, basic human patterns and interpret those patterns to better function on its own. If an AI is learning a very “homogeneous” and “orderly refined” group. No matter how large, or much it can scale, from that group. It runs into the issue of not being able to be re-purposed for market, other than its own.

This is something that has plagued many Chinese companies, from technology – mainly apps, to even Chinese films. They are just “too Chinese” and cannot fit into a universal construct, to reach a global audience. An issue that the United States has had little problems doing.

A major difference between the smart speakers available in the market from the U.S., from Amazon Alexa/Echo to Google Home, is that they have been developed for multiple markets, with multiple languages and cultures, in mind.

While Baidu’s DuerOS, which was launched on 3 different smart speakers from their company, at this year’s CES. Is designed for one market and one language only; China.

Yep, that’s it pictured above – the weird PIXAR lamp smart speaker…..

If it is to be launched in the West, say the U.S., it would need to be completely reskinned. Programmed to learn new nuances to the culture and language that it will be marketed towards. Even if it was launched in neighboring Japan, which shares many cultural similarities, compared to the West. It would need to be reskinned as well.

China is a country full of different cultures and even different languages, that do not even fit into the Chinese language family of Mandarin, Hakka, and Cantonese; but that is not the intention of China’s State Council’s Next Gen AI Development Plan.

It is designed to fit the homogeneous one-country system that Beijing has set for the over-all formation of 21st Century China. With Baidu’s DuerOS claiming to understand standard Mandarin Chinese, even better than Chinese themselves.

A feat that is not unimaginable, as China is said to have 299 living languages spoken within the country.

Just as I have discussed with China’s faltered attempted at “Soft Power” influence via its film industry, these stymied focused forms of development for international impact, only hampers China’s real growth outside of its own market.

But, when push comes to shove, the Chinese market is so large, and protectionist, that Chinese AI development could survive. Even creating influence from one-market, and one-market alone, to the outside world.

This has been seen with the development of Chinese apps, especially in regards to Tencent’s WeChat / Weixin, and the emerging fintech market in China. Led by company’s like Alibaba’s Ant Financial.

China’s applications and emerging fintech markets, have spurn their Western counterparts into advancing their own social media networks and apps, to hold back the influence of WeChat’s development in the world.

But, just like WeChat and Ant Financial, which ran into regulatory problem here in the U.S. when the government blocked the sale of Moneygram to Alibaba, they have been unsuccessful in their attempts to penetrate outside markets other than the Chinese diaspora.

Much due to their nature of focusing on the homogeneous nature that is the Chinese people and state. It is reasonable to suspect that Chinese AI development, even though it may outpace its American counterparts, may run into similar obstacles that have plagued Chinese tech giants – LeEco, Alibaba, Tencent, etc.

Being a, very large and uniform market, where everyone speaks the same language, and they all obey the same law.

China may, and most likely pull ahead of the United States in AI development, but that development will most likely not translate outside of Greater China. Allowing its U.S. counterparts to take those developments and apply them to their own technology and research; translating them not just for the English speaking markets but those worldwide.

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About the Author
Born and raised in the Missouri-Ozarks Ryan studied Film Production, and East Asian Culture, at the University of Kansas where he was a UGRA recipient that led him on a seven-year long, Journey From the West, to China. Where he worked with Warner Brothers, the China Film Group Corp. and the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Before returning to the States, where he specializes in Chinese Anime & Comics, China’s Box-Office, and Chinese entertainment-tech industries. He has a dog in China, Abigail, and a dog in the Arkansas-Ozarks, King Blue, who help ease his anxiety of suffering from the “Two-Dimensional Complex” that is trying to understand the Culture Industry landscapes of the Middle Kingdom.