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A Chinese drone for all seasons

The MIT Technology Review featured a riveting article some months ago entitled China’s AI Awakening. Its blurb was positively startling: ‘The West shouldn’t fear China’s artificial-intelligence revolution. It should copy it’. For any Indian seething with a sense of rivalry vis-à-vis China, the article gives a sinking feeling. On how many fronts simultaneously can you ‘rival’ with someone who belongs to a far higher league  ranging from Buddhism to Doklam to Belt and Road Initiative?

The AI puts China in an exclusive league with the United States  and, possibly, Russia. How did China manage it? It’s innovation, stupid! An IMF economist wrote last week that “China is on track to be the world’s innovation leader. By the end of 2018, it will be apparent to all just how quickly and easily this latest chapter in the Chinese success story will be written.” He went on to explain how China has managed this  and there is indeed some food for thought in it for the Indian leadership and policymakers who craft our China policies along the archaic formula of ‘rivalry’:

Total spending on R&D in China (as a percentage of GDP) more than doubled from 0.9% in 2000 to 2.1% in 2016. To date, the increase has mostly been focused on applied research and commercial development, with only 5% dedicated to basic science. Nevertheless, China ranked 22nd in the 2017 Global Innovation Index … China’s share of high-impact academic publications (the top 0.1% of papers in Scopus, which rates by citations) has grown, from less than 1% in 1997 to about 20% in 2016.

The sheer volume of university graduates (6.2 million in 2012, six times the 2001 total) combined with an internationally trained, highly skilled diaspora whose members return home in large numbers  there are 800,000 Chinese students in tertiary education abroad  is likely to produce enough talent to achieve the desired effect.

Coming back to the topic of AI, Financial Times carried an essay recently expanding on the theme of the MIT Technology Review article, which estimated that China’s target is no less than becoming “the world’s unchallenged AI superpower… US and Chinese tech companies alike are ploughing money and talent into AI, but Beijing’s blueprint for investing in artificial intelligence  creating a $150bn industry by 2030  underlines its desire to beat the US.”

The Chinese media disclosed on the New Year Day that in “combat-ready” drone aircraft, China has perhaps overtaken the US. The Global Times newspaper reported on Monday that the a high-end reconnaissance-strike unmanned aerial system (UAS)drone named as Wing Loong II UAS “will be widely used in future military operations.” During multiple live-fire tests, the drone had a hit rate of 100 percent by hitting five targets in succession “with five different types of missiles in a single sortie” in simultaneous operations from a single ground station. It claimed that the drone “successfully hit a moving target that the US counterpart had failed to hit for eight years.”

Once China completes its global navigation satellite system, “we will soon develop a true global combat capability.” For the present, though, the UAS will be deployed in “China’s future military actions… and border patrol operations.” An intriguing part of the report was that China has “already obtained the largest order of Chinese advanced large-scale UAVs in the overseas market, even before its maiden flight.” Who could have placed the “largest order”? No second guesses, please. Hopefully, the drone that Adani Enterprises Ltd. plans to manufacture in Gujarat will indeed ‘rival’ Wing Loong II UAS when it hovers in the skies above our western border with Pakistan. Or else, all this becomes fake rivalry.

The MIT Technology Review featured a riveting article some months ago entitled China’s AI Awakening. Its blurb was positively startling: ‘The West shouldn’t fear China’s artificial-intelligence revolution. It should copy it’. For any Indian seething with a sense of rivalry vis-à-vis China, the article gives a sinking feeling. On how many fronts simultaneously can you ‘rival’ with someone who belongs to a far higher league  ranging from Buddhism to Doklam to Belt and Road Initiative? The AI puts China in an exclusive league with the United States  and, possibly, Russia. How did China manage it? It’s innovation, stupid! An IMF economist wrote last week that “China is on track to be the world’s innovation leader.

By the end of 2018, it will be apparent to all just how quickly and easily this latest chapter in the Chinese success story will be written.” He went on to explain how China has managed this  and there is indeed some food for thought in it for the Indian leadership and policymakers who craft our China policies along the archaic formula of ‘rivalry’:

Total spending on R&D in China (as a percentage of GDP) more than doubled from 0.9% in 2000 to 2.1% in 2016. To date, the increase has mostly been focused on applied research and commercial development, with only 5% dedicated to basic science. Nevertheless, China ranked 22nd in the 2017 Global Innovation Index … China’s share of high-impact academic publications (the top 0.1% of papers in Scopus, which rates by citations) has grown, from less than 1% in 1997 to about 20% in 2016. The sheer volume of university graduates (6.2 million in 2012, six times the 2001 total) combined with an internationally trained, highly skilled diaspora whose members return home in large numbers  there are 800,000 Chinese students in tertiary education abroad  is likely to produce enough talent to achieve the desired effect.

Coming back to the topic of AI, Financial Times carried an essay recently expanding on the theme of the MIT Technology Review article, which estimated that China’s target is no less than becoming “the world’s unchallenged AI superpower… US and Chinese tech companies alike are ploughing money and talent into AI, but Beijing’s blueprint for investing in artificial intelligence  creating a $150bn industry by 2030  underlines its desire to beat the US.”

The Chinese media disclosed on the New Year Day that in “combat-ready” drone aircraft, China has perhaps overtaken the US. The Global Times newspaper reported on Monday that the a high-end reconnaissance-strike unmanned aerial system (UAS) drone named as Wing Loong II UAS “will be widely used in future military operations.” During multiple live-fire tests, the drone had a hit rate of 100 percent by hitting five targets in succession “with five different types of missiles in a single sortie” in simultaneous operations from a single ground station. It claimed that the drone “successfully hit a moving target that the US counterpart had failed to hit for eight years.”

Once China completes its global navigation satellite system, “we will soon develop a true global combat capability.” For the present, though, the UAS will be deployed in “China’s future military actions… and border patrol operations.” An intriguing part of the report was that China has “already obtained the largest order of Chinese advanced large-scale UAVs in the overseas market, even before its maiden flight.”

Who could have placed the “largest order”? No second guesses, please. Hopefully, the drone that Adani Enterprises Ltd. plans to manufacture in Gujarat will indeed ‘rival’ Wing Loong II UAS when it hovers in the skies above our western border with Pakistan. Or else, all this becomes fake rivalry.

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