China’s gateway to AI dominance at CES 2018

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/2 18:28:39

Domestic tech companies to seek expansion at global event

A man tries out the new Sony PlayStation VR during CES 2017. Photo: IC

CES 2018, the world's largest tech trade show, will kick off in Las Vegas on Tuesday (US time). Artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality (VR) and smart devices are listed as long-awaited products to be showcased at this year's event. 2017 was the year of AI development, especially regarding the emergence of Chinese tech companies that had made major breakthroughs in the application of AI technologies. Some of those firms will debut at this year's CES, which is seen as the gateway for tech companies seeking expansion in new markets.

Some Chinese tech companies have been busy getting ready for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018, an event that provides a global stage for companies showcasing their innovative gadgets, which will kick off on Tuesday (US time) in Las Vegas.

It is the first time that companies like China's Siri-like voice recognition service provider iFlytek Co will participate in this annual event hosted by the US-based Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

The company will introduce its flagship products such as the electronic translator, which so far can translate Chinese into seven languages including English, French, Japanese, Spanish, Tibetan, Uyghur and Korean, a move that will bring a real-time speech transcription tool to the US market, iFlytek said in a document sent to the Global Times.

But iFlytek was not the only Chinese company that saw its power swell in 2017 thanks to wider application of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in China, motivating it to look toward tapping into overseas markets.

"With 2017 being considered the year of the AI boom, the technology will be a hot topic during this year's CES," Wang Yanhui, head of the Shanghai-based Mobile China Alliance, told the Global Times.

One of the three major trends to look for at CES 2018 will be the narrow application of AI, including speech recognition, computer vision and machine learning, according to the official website of CTA.

Two other trends to look for are smart cities for connected people and voice computing.

At this year's event, 20,000 products will be launched, with featured products ranging from Internet of Things (IoTs) and robotics to intelligent machines and self-driving vehicles, the CTA website said.

"Last year's event was mainly about VR/AR [virtual reality/augmented reality], but those technologies did not meet market expectations later on," Wang said over the weekend.

During CES 2017, major players in the tech industry unveiled new products and highlighted VR, and in particular, US chipmakers such as Qualcomm and Intel talked up the technology in their keynote speeches, media reported in January 2017.

"[Chinese] AI-powered firms will not let us down this year," Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based industry analyst, told the Global Times on Monday. As some applications of AI technologies are now "just around the corner," Chinese companies are likely to become leaders instead of followers in some domains such as speech recognition, computer vision and autonomous driving, he noted.

However, Chinese companies did not catch much attention at CES 2017, despite the fact that one-third of all participants came from China, the Beijing News reported in 2017.

Among the 1,300 Chinese companies that participated in the event last year, 652 came from Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, which is seen as the world's manufacturing hub, the media report noted. But few new gadgets unveiled by Chinese firms were applauded by the audience, apart from Chinese-made drones.

"Usually, China's small- and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] make up a large part of CES participants. When big players join the event, they will increasingly make the presence of Chinese tech firms felt," Wang said.

Rising innovation

Indeed, two major Chinese tech firms - e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding and internet search provider Baidu, Inc - are listed as key exhibitors at this year's CES.

Particularly, Beijing-based Baidu is set to unveil its autonomous driving system Apollo 2.0, the company told the Global Times.

Baidu also said Apollo provides a comprehensive and reliable all-in-one solution that supports all major features and functions of an autonomous vehicle, and Apollo 2.0, which is the latest version of the system, will enable cars to drive autonomously on simple urban roads. Meanwhile, the company will also unveil brand-new AI hardware powered by DuerOS, a conversational AI platform.

In addition, Beijing-based facial recognition start-up Megvii Technology Inc will present a suite of AI solutions for mobile platforms at the event. For example, the company has developed a system-level biometric 2D&3D face unlock application feature, which could soon be implemented in mobile phones.

"CES has long been dominated by [Chinese] smartphone makers like Huawei [Technologies Co] or high-tech firms like Lenovo. While more new tech firms made breakthroughs in vertical sectors, their presence at events like CES and MWC [Mobile World Congress] reflected the rise in global influence of Chinese innovation," Liu said.

China's start-up scene has transformed dramatically over the past decade, from copycat versions of existing applications to a true leapfrog in innovation, as shown in a joint report by New York-based research consultancy Eurasia Group and Beijing-based VC firm Sinovation Ventures released in December 2017. This jump in growth is a result of capital flowing into China, a large pool of determined and hard-working entrepreneurs as well as supportive government policies.

Between 2012 and the third quarter of 2017, investors poured $4.5 billion into over 200 Chinese AI companies, and over half of those investments have occurred over the past two years, the report noted.

Going global

Chinese firms view CES as a launch pad for their potential US market, and some of them have even taken high-profile spots at the event, the Washington Post reported in January 2017. For instance, as demand in the domestic technology market has been leveling off in recent years, Huawei has had to seek customers beyond China.

Chinese companies will unveil a slew of new products at the event, with the aim of further expanding in overseas markets.

At CES 2018, iFlytek will present its family of speech technology products and services called iFLYREC, which is based on the company's intelligent speech and language technologies. The product family will also be the first of the Chinese firm to reach the US market, the company noted.

Huawei has also been working on the launch of its flagship product Mate 10 with US carriers due to participate in the event, media reported in December 2017. The move will pave the way for the Chinese smartphone maker to enter the US market and compete with its rivals such as Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics.

However, Chinese firms will have a long way to go before becoming globally recognized tech firms, said Liu, the analyst.

While Chinese tech companies aggressively look for opportunities to expand their presence in new markets, they have to be fully aware of hurdles such as language barriers, different corporate management structures and tightened regulations, he noted.

In recent years, Chinese tech firms have been actively investing in the US as well as planning to double their footprints in Silicon Valley in order to enhance their global presence. 


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