AI in Japan and China


I attended an event called AI in Japan and China, hosted by Business Finland. It was an eye-opening experience that I’m glad I participated.

I’m an IT student, and have been using all kinds of tools and toys related to tech all my life, so of course A.I. has come into question on more than one occasion, as I like to read about the subjects I’m interested in.

After the event I spent some time researching this topic a bit more. Some of the information in this article will be from the event, while the rest comes from my own research. I will provide links when I can, so that you can read more on this subject if you are interested. My goal is simply to summarize everything as well as I can and make it easily digestible, as it is a rather detailed topic that branches into just about everything.

AI in Japan and China

70% of all business leaders believe that AI will be the business advantage in the future. I’m surprised that it’s only 70%, but I guess the other 30% must come from fields where automation isn’t an option… yet.

As it currently stands, A.I. is being used in almost all industries already, and we can only expect the trend to continue this way moving forward. Some people have pointed out that this is making humans more and more obsolete, and it’s costing us jobs, but while the ever improving advances in A.I. do have an effect in some fields, new jobs are also being created.

Here’s a video by TechCrunch that showcases how AI has now infiltrated even the fast food industry:

What we know for sure is that A.I. will be one of the key components in a country’s success in the future. As the world develops, so must every country with it, and those who don’t or simply can’t, will be left far behind. It’s a race for survival, to be sufficiently dramatic about it.

A.I. revolution is happening all around us, and it might be happening faster than you think. Now with the intro out of the way, let’s have a look what the future looks like in China and Japan.

China has the monetary advantage


China has been quietly building their way into becoming the leader in A.I. industry around the globe, and this is happening while the US, China’s main competitor in this field, is planning to cut funding in the science and technology industry by 15% in 2018. Of course, the U.S. has their advantage as well: Google, Microsoft, IBM and Apple all are massive technological powerhouses, with their own goals and aspirations. When it comes to the quality of intelligence, research and tech itself, the U.S. still has an advantage over China.

However, As the fastest growing economy in the world, China has an advantage in terms of funding over all other continents. Of course this funding comes from many, different kinds of industries, but the willingness to invest into tech is already a big step forward.

This is a quote from one of the slides presented at the AI event:

“China aims to build a 1 trillion yuan (€126.4 billion) AI core business by 2030, which will potentially stimulate as much as 10 trillion yuan (€1.26 trillion) in related business.

Investors poured $4.5 billion into more than 200 Chinese A.I. companies between 2012 and 2017 and half of the AI investments world wide went to China in 2017″

This speaks volumes of China’s other big advantage, which is its unity. It’s in the general knowledge that if the Chinese governments wants to get something done, they will get it done, no matter the cost.

B.A.T. Plan

The key players in China’s A.I. plan are BAT(Baidu-Alibaba-Tencent)+iFlytek, now dubbed the “national team”, who have been given the task of creating 4 open innovation platforms. Baidu is in charge of creating the autonomous driving platform, while Alibaba works on Smart cities (“city brains” project). Tencent focuses on healthcare, and iFlytek has been tasked to work on voice intelligence.

Other than these big companies, China is looking to invest into A.I. companies and talent, not just in China, but all around the globe. It has already been happening for a while, of course, but we can only expect things to escalate from here.

There are some roadblocks to China’s success. The already mentioned lack of hardware and lack of high quality intelligence are two major issues, but there’s one more problem that China might not be able to resolve. China’s policies in terms of mass surveillance come into headlines quite often, and when it comes to AI, ethical problems are at the forefront of all China’s problems if they are to globalize their AI products in the future.

I can’t speak for the U.S., because I don’t know about the laws in place there, and to research it goes beyond the scope of this article, but I know that the policies that China practices would not fly in Europe. GDPR is something all companies in Europe have to deal with, and it goes directly against the surveillance policies present in China, and the only way around is for them to change their products for the global market.

Other than that, China faces a lot of skepticism due to its history of ‘made in China’-quality of products label, but this isn’t something they can change with anything other than simply improving their products, or promoting brands that do not fall into this category.

In conclusion, China is looking to become the leader of AI development in the world, and they will accomplish this task with strong policy support, as well as significant investments in the area. They may be lacking behind the U.S. in terms of AI development, but they are very quickly catching up with smart investments, and focused approach on a large scale.

While they may face some opposition, especially when it comes to ethical matters, I think China is well on their way to accomplishing their goals. Hopefully they can adapt to the cultures of the rest of the world along the way.

Japan focuses on other areas


Japan was one of the first countries with a definite nationwide strategy about AI, starting in March of 2017, around the same time with Canada. To anyone interested, Finland had their plan up and running in December that same year. China on the other hand, has a Next Generation AI plan as well as a Three-Year Action plan, which both also got their start in 2017.

For now, Japan is focusing on what’s happening in 2020. For this special event, Japan has come up with multiple fascinating ideas when it comes to AI. For example: the whole event will use 100% renewable energy, there will be driverless cars available for people attending the event and robots will work as translators.

Here is a nice video that briefly showcases some of the stuff Japan has in plans for the Olympics 2020:

Japan is well known for its practical AI, and especially robotics. Whenever there is a talk about robotics, Japan is bound to be part of that conversation. However, Japan can’t rely on just developing robots in the future.

Unlike China and the U.S., Japan is not focused on becoming the world’s leading AI super nation, but rather they are much more interested in solving problems in their own country.

For the longest time Japan has had a problem with aging population. Fortunately, the Japanese live very long lives. This is due to the fact that the food happens to be healthy, lifestyle in general promotes good habits, and the healthcare services are of high quality. In Akita for example, one third of its citizens are over the age of 65. Furthermore, the whole country seems to be very career focused these days, and less children are being born.


Because of this, Japan’s focus is on creating automated systems that will help people accomplish their tasks with less or no effort. Even if you haven’t been to Japan, you probably have heard that their trains are always on time, at least in Tokyo. This isn’t entirely true, like nothing ever is, but to get a reputation like that, it takes solid effort and years of evidence. Either way, everyone is at least aware that Japan is a high tech country, with a perfectionist approach to everything.

For Japan to succeed in their plans, they also need to take into account a couple of key issues.

AI related budget proposed in the national budget for Japan in 2018 was 77,040 million Yen (€601.9 million), largest ever proposed, which is still not enough, but there are restrictions in place that limit the increase. However, it is likely that the budget has to be increased even more to answer the needs of the population for AI development in multitude of fields.

The problem is not just the budget, which already is rather large, but also that Japan doesn’t have enough experts in this field working in the country. Currently there are almost 2 jobs available per 1 job seeker, and so the government is now relying on asking the elderly and the women to join the workforce. It doesn’t help that it’s very difficult for a foreigner to get a job in Japan, but I imagine this is also something that will change in the near future.

Other problem, if you want to call it that, is that unlike China, Japan has a very ethical approach when it comes to AI. The data of citizens who live in the country is almost sacred, and will not be shared to people outside companies. This is something the government doesn’t seem to want to budge on, which is good for the rest of the world too, but this among a plethora of other regulations is creating problems when it comes to creating AI.

Lastly, Japanese people still prefer to be served by a human, and not by an AI. Changing the minds of people will be an obstacle that is in my opinion almost impossible to solve with our current technology, but if there is a way to figure it out, I’m sure Japan is the one to do it.

In Conclusion


China and the U.S. are in a battle against time to see who becomes the leader of AI in the world in the next 20 years. By the looks of it, the U.S. has an upper hand at the moment, but China has been quietly building towards a future that allows them to not only catch up to their arch rival, but surpass them as well.

Japan on the other hand has a different approach, and are trying to create solutions for their own people, while at the same time building something everyone can benefit. Be the motivator the 2020 Olympics, or the aging population of Japan, I’m sure everyone will benefit from the outcome.

It’s not just these nations that are benefiting. Both China and Japan will need extra workforce in this field, so tech companies around the globe are doing their best to create high quality products and services to get noticed. In a way, we’re all working together towards a greater goal.

We’re living exciting times when it comes to AI and technology. The world around us is evolving and no one really has the time to follow everything that’s happening. Nobody knows what the world will look like 5 years from now, and that is both scary and exciting at the same time.

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