Hangzhou dangles up to 30 million yuan in AI subsidies to support country’s push for global dominance

Sarah Dai

Hangzhou has become the latest city to unveil a package of policies supportive of artificial intelligence (AI) development, as Chinese cities charge into the new year with AI development as a key priority.

The city, home to some of China’s biggest tech giants including Alibaba and NetEase, will offer up to 30 million yuan (US$4.3 million) in subsidies per project for the development of open AI platforms, computing hardware, core algorithms and operating systems, the Hangzhou Municipal Government announced. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Individual companies and research institutes can claim 50 per cent of the total price of new research and development (R&D) equipment for the development of open-source, shared research platforms, up to a maximum of 30 million yuan per project, according to a document released last month. Those that have already invested at least 5 million yuan in such platforms and achieved good service standards could be reimbursed 30 per cent of their investment in software and hardware, up to a maximum of 5 million yuan per project.

In addition, the city will subsidise 20 per cent of R&D investments for research on core AI technologies with a cap of 5 million yuan per project, but approved research projects in certain key areas – such as AI chips, core algorithms and operating systems – qualify for up to 20 million yuan in grants each.

The new subsidies are meant to “foster the building of shared and open AI platforms and bring down the computing cost” of AI development, according to the document.

China’s AI tech champions are already powering millions of tasks

Chinese government funding for AI has been a sensitive issue in the past year, amid an ongoing trade war with the US and as the world’s two largest economies battle for AI supremacy.

Last year, Washington blacklisted eight prominent Chinese AI companies, including national champions SenseTime, Megvii and iFlyTek, on allegations that China had used their technology in a “campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance” against Uygur Muslims and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the country. The trade blacklist effectively banned these companies from purchasing US technology, presenting a major challenge for China’s ambitions to become a global leader in what has been dubbed the fourth industrial revolution by 2030.

Nonetheless, Hangzhou is among dozens Chinese cities that have issued policies to foster the development of AI over the past year, pressing ahead with the country’s ambitions.

In September, Shanghai announced that it aimed to become an “AI highland” by 2021, subsidising 30 per cent of investments in key projects, or up to 20 million yuan for each project. In February, the southwestern city of Chengdu also offered up to 2 million yuan in rewards for each resident tech unicorn, or start-up valued at US$1 billion or above.

According to a national plan released in 2017, China expects its core AI industry to be worth 150 billion yuan and related industries to reach 2 trillion yuan by 2020.

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