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Innovations in AI go full steam ahead

China's innovations in artificial intelligence technologies have continued this year despite COVID-19, a new report showed.

AI applications have grown more than 56 percent year-on-year in the January-October period.

Applications for AI-related patents reached 694,000 in China at the end of October.

Of these, 101,734 applications were made this year, according to a report jointly released by two agencies affiliated with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the nation's top industry regulator.

With the support of China's policies to accelerate "new infrastructure" like 5G networks and AI-enabled technologies, companies and universities remain focused on innovation, said the report from the China Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team and the National Electronic Information Intellectual Property Innovation Platform.

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, AI has played a very important role in helping China combat the contagion, with the local open source AI community booming and providing high-quality technology to the world in an open manner, the report said.

The growth came after China surpassed the United States as the country with the largest number of AI patent applications in 2019, marking a continuation of the nation's growing presence in the burgeoning AI sector.

Lu Chuanying, secretary-general of the Cyberspace International Governance Research Center, which is part of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Chinese technology players are finding a way to showcase their technological prowess amid the epidemic.

He said technology companies' remarkable speed in tweaking existing technologies for application in the virus fight and their ability to come up with practical solutions to peculiar problems reflect their desire to shoulder responsibilities toward society.

Given the strain on technology-enabled infrastructure in populous big cities, AI majors such as Megvii, Cloudwalk and SenseTime have developed fever-detection systems with noncontact inspection tools and automatic alerts.

Shanghai-based Yitu Technology Co, which was established in 2012, has also developed an intelligent medical imaging evaluation system, which has been in use at hospitals in the diagnosis of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus.

Chinese companies are also working hard to come up with more fundamental innovation. For instance, Megvii developed its proprietary deep learning framework, the MegEngine, and its AI productivity platform Brain++, which can enable algorithm training at scale.

All these efforts are helping boost the application of AI patents in China, a trend that is likely to continue in the following years, given the nation's emphasis on new infrastructure, experts said.

To gear up new growth engines, China's central government has called for new infrastructure construction, including 5G, AI and the industrial internet.

Kaifu Lee, a prominent AI expert who is chairman and CEO of venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures, said: "New infrastructure comes with huge opportunities. During the process, AI, together with other core areas of new infrastructure such as 5G, big data and the industrial internet, will integrate much more closely with each other.

"This will take the digitalization of the nation's traditional industries to a new level."

The AI software and application market in China netted $2.89 billion in sales last year, and the number is expected to reach $12.75 billion by 2024, witnessing a compound annual growth rate of almost 40 percent during a six-year period, said a report from International Data Corporation, a global research and marketing services company focused on the technology landscape.

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