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China's president had 2 books about artificial intelligence on his shelf in his New Year speech


Xi Jingpin

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping has "The Master Algorithm" and "Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane" on his book shelf.
  • The books describe some of the basic principles of machine learning and paint a vision for the future.
  • China wants to become a world leader in the field of artificial intelligence by 2025.

Every new year, China's president Xi Jinping greets his nation with a video recorded from his office. Behind the desk he sits at is an impressive book shelf that reveals what the world leader has been reading; it gets closely analysed every year, as we first saw via Quartz.

This year, there were at least two books on his shelf about artificial intelligence (AI). They were Pedro Domingo's "The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World" and Brett King's "Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane".

Released in 2015, "The Master Algorithm" describes how machine learning is remaking business, politics, science and war. It details the various methods of machine learning and explains them by comparing them to neural connections in the brain, logic, and probability, among other things.

The book also describes a fictional master algorithm, which develops a perfect understanding of how the world and the people within it work; the master algorithm is a "universal learner capable of deriving all knowledge from data," according to the book's synopsis.

The other book, "Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane," looks at the new "augmented age" and explains how it is going to cause disruption and shift the way we as humans behave. It also delves into how robots will replace human jobs and whether AIs will subsume us as inferior intelligences.

The fact that China's president has these books on his book shelf is interesting and it could be interpreted as a signal that China is serious about its bullish AI ambitions.

China published its AI strategy in July and said that it wanted to be the world leader in AI by 2025 and it wants to make the domestic industry worth $150 billion (£111 billion) by 2030.

The Chinese government is building a $2 billion (£1.5 billion) AI research park as it looks to become a world leader in the field by 2025, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing local news agency Xinhua.

Russian president Vladimir Putin believes that in the future, the country that leads in AI could dominate the world, while tech billionaire Elon Musk thinks AI will be the most likely cause of WWIII (although his comments should be taken with a pinch of salt).

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, warned in November that China is poised to overtake the US in the field of AI if the US government doesn't act soon.

Speaking at the Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit, the former Google CEO said: "Trust me, these Chinese people are good."

While the US has Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, OpenAI and others, China has its own enormous tech giants aggressively pursuing AI research. Examples include Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent, to name but a few.

"It's pretty simple," said Schmidt. "By 2020 they will have caught up. By 2025 they will be better than us. And by 2030 they will dominate the industries of AI. Just stop for a sec. The [Chinese] government said that."

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