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China in midst of AI talent boom, may take five years to reach global standard

OCT . 25 2021
Peking University, October 25, 2021: The number of people involved in artificial intelligence (AI) in China has increased enormously thanks to the government's commitment to developing the booming sector and the considerable value placed on higher education, but it may take another five years for China's AI to really come up to world standards, said John Hopcroft, a Turing Award winner, Professor at Cornell University and Visiting Chair Professor of Peking University.

John Hopcroft, a Turing Award winner, Professor at Cornell University and Visiting Chair Professor of Peking University, attends the first Peking University Emerging Engineering International Forum in Beijing on Saturday.
China now leads in AI journal citations after surpassing the US in the total number of journal publications several years ago, according to the 2021 AI Index Report by Stanford University.

Li Yanhong, CEO of Chinese internet giant Baidu, said on Saturday that the company will cultivate 5 million AI experts for society over the next five years.

One thing that makes US universities so great is the talent that they get from China, but "the problem between China and the US is, there's a lot of negative and false information about China," Hopcroft told the Global Times in an exclusive interview at the first Peking University Emerging Engineering International Forum held in Beijing on Saturday.

While the US government, whose acrimony with China has increasingly spread to the technology sector, some politicians and scholars in the US have also been hyping the "China threat theory."

For instance, in a report by the Financial Times earlier this month, the former Pentagon software chief said that the failure of the US to respond to Chinese cyber and other threats was putting his children's futures at risk, and the US has "no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years."

Hopcroft frowned upon "technology cold war," another term that is frequently cited by the media and politicians.

"Using the word 'war' gives the general population the wrong idea. What we should say is China is going to be a strong economic competitor. We've got to increase our competition; it's not a fight," Hopcroft pointed out.

The first Peking University Emerging Engineering International Forum is held in Beijing on Saturday.

Teaching at several prestigious universities in China as well, he called on breaking down barriers to China-US people-to-people exchanges in the educational sector.

"China is going to become the dominant economic power in the world eventually, because you have four times the population of the US. The US should be figuring out how we should work with China," Hopcroft suggested.

"We're no longer going to be the dominant economic power, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be the major ones to figure out how to interact. If we separate, then nations are going to fall into two categories," Hopcroft warned.

Helping to improve China's undergraduate instruction, the Turing Award recipient will teach top-level freshmen at Peking University. He said "the class is stronger than the incoming classes at Berkeley, Stanford or Cornell."

Peking University is pushing a strategy named Emerging Engineering and Development, a move for the prestigious university to respond to the rising challenges and unprecedented worldwide problems including environmental pollution, cybersecurity and energy crises.

Chinese government officials, school leadership and the faculty underscored the necessity and urgency of developing emerging engineering disciplines at Saturday's forum, saying the country still has some bottleneck difficulties.

China, as a developing country, still faces many bottlenecks in the engineering and technology sectors, so core technologies and excellent engineering education are badly needed, Qiu Shuiping, secretary of the Party committee of Peking University, said at the forum.

The construction plan of Emerging Engineering and Development is a response to the new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation across the globe, Wu Yan, director of the Higher Education Department at the Ministry of Education, said at the forum.

"It should also serve the nation's economic and social development," Wu noted.

Thirteen colleges, research institutions and research centers have been designated as major construction units under the Emerging Engineering and Development strategy, covering the disciplines of core technologies, advanced chips, air pollution controls and basic materials. 

Global Times