RTM - News and Analysis of the Global Innovation Scene

China Races to Automate While Learning to Innovate
China’s seemingly endless supply of cheap labor made it the factory for the world in past decades. Today, as the country seeks to remake itself, from a maker of products created elsewhere to an innovator in its own right, the government is pushing its manufacturing industry in a new direction: automation. Through a series of three- and ten-year plans, China plans to invest across nine key industrial segments in a bid to make itself a technological force on par with Japan and Germany by mid-century. Central to that plan is the transformation of its legions of factories through robotics— while moving from being a major robotics market to being a key supplier of advanced robotics technology.
China Aims for Global AI Leadership
Artificial intelligence, or AI— computers that can analyze data, make predictions, and draw conclusions in ways only humans could a few years ago—may be the most important technological development since the steam engine, movable type, or cuneiform writing on clay tablets, depending on who you listen to. “I have a hard time thinking of an industry we cannot transform with AI,” Andrew Ng, cofounder of Coursera and Google Brain, has said. Ng is now chief science officer for Baidu, China’s leading search engine company; he directs Baidu’s AI research effort in Silicon Valley. Ng’s move, from leading US tech companies to a Chinese tech powerhouse just moving into AI, is indicative of a wider shift. China, increasingly, is seeking to challenge Western dominance in AI.
China’s Space Ambitions
The People’s Republic of China came late to space activity. It didn’t launch its first Earth-orbiting satellite until 1970, the year after the first American astronauts landed on the Moon. And not until 2003 did the country send its own astronauts—known as taikonauts—into orbit. Since then, however, the Middle Kingdom has emerged as an increasingly powerful and ambitious force in the space arena. It has landed the first roving vehicle on the Moon’s surface in four decades and has launched a rocket whose power is exceeded only by that of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. And to launch that behemoth, it built a new spaceport on a lush island that, because of its southerly location, gives rockets more oomph than they have from the country’s other launching sites.
France to Europe: Get Disruptive on Innovation
Leave it to Emmanuel Macron to rock the boat. After launching his movement to win the French presidency, the ambitious politician has floated an idea to spur innovation in Europe, one that would see participating countries—and not Brussels—in the driver’s seat. His vision is to create a new Agency for Disruptive Innovation modeled after the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research arm of the Pentagon that has spawned some of the most transformative inventions of modern times. The goal: to help Europe catch up with the United States and Asia in breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology.
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Volume 61, Issue 3, May-June 2018