If you, or your kids, are obsessed with TikTok, you might be surprised to hear that the company behind your favorite app is a giant artificial intelligence tech conglomerate in China. Many westerners have no idea that China is actually setting a course to become a world leader in AI, and that a number of key Chinese AI companies have already become a major part of everyday life in China, the United States, and the rest of the world.
China’s leaders have made AI a strategic priority and are driving the Chinese tech industry to define standards and norms for global artificial intelligence practices.
Why China Is Poised to Lead the Global AI Market
There are three major driving factors behind China’s rise on the global AI scene:
1. Access to a huge domestic market. China’s population of 1.4 billion consumers is the biggest domestic market in the world. There are a plethora of potential AI applications for this market, so China is fertile ground for AI companies to thrive.
2. AI is a top priority for leadership, and the Chinese government has articulated a clear, ambitious mission on artificial intelligence. The government and business sector in China understand that AI is revolutionizing virtually all aspects of consumers’ lives, and they are embracing the new technology wholeheartedly and providing strong strategic guidance for innovative AI tech companies.
3. China fiercely protects its internal market, blocking major US-based AI players like Facebook and Google. This virtually eliminates competition from Western companies so domestic tech innovation can flourish in China. More recently, China has also imposed restrictions on the export of some innovative AI technology with the aim of safeguarding national economic security.
Key AI Players in China
Here are a few of the biggest Chinese AI companies taking the lead in the evolving tech world:
Baidu is one of the largest AI and internet companies in the world. One of their biggest products is their highly popular search engine – over 70% of Chinese search inquiries go through their engine. DuerOS, Baidu’s conversational AI platform, can add digital intelligence to a range of household devices like smart speakers or refrigerators.
Alibaba is an enormous e-commerce platform that hit record sales of around $72 billion in 2020. Chinese consumers pay for transactions with their mobile phones more often than consumers in any other country in the world, and Alipay, Alibaba’s mobile payments platform, enables the vast majority of those mobile payments. Alibaba also provides pay-as-you-go cloud computing services and recently partnered with AutoX to roll out a fleet of autonomous taxis in Shanghai.
Tencent’s most popular product is WeChat, which started out as a messaging platform but has now added features that enable users to read the news, buy products and services, order food, and even book travel right in the app.
ByteDance is behind the tech darling TikTok, as well as Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese equivalent. The company is currently valued at $180B, and it is considered one of the most valuable unicorns (startup companies valued at more than a billion dollars) in the tech world.
Artificial Intelligence in Our Daily Lives: Look to China
Companies like Baidu, Alibaba, and ByteDance are clearly at the forefront of AI research, and their products and services are integrating artificial intelligence into daily life in China and beyond.
In the near future, Western tech companies that want to remain relevant will look to China for digital innovation and AI breakthroughs. As China’s broad range of startups, scale-ups, and large corporate organizations continue to close the technical gap between their country and Western economies, they are poised to become worldwide leaders in artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning.