Full Episode: China strives for tech self-sufficiency

China's overarching national goals have been to become an "innovative nation" by 2020, reach "front ranks" of innovative countries by 2035, and be a "global scientific power" by 2050. China has achieved the 2020 goal – for example, Chinese entities now lead the world in the number of patents filed (though quality, while improving, still lags).

Insight into how China intends to achieve the 2035 and 2050 goals comes from its 14th Five-Year plan, 2021 to 2025, which sets strategies and implements policies. In addition, given US sanctions and pressures, and threats to decouple science and technology, China is laser focused on self-reliance and indigenous innovation. 

Highest priority goes to artificial intelligence, AI, as the core engine driving what China calls its "new development stage". The vision is to transform China's economy by embedding AI in all aspects of industry and commerce, and to leverage China's advantage in big data. What are AI's opportunities and challenges? Risks and rewards? What about data security and personal privacy?

While the National People's Congress, China's legislature, finalizes and authorizes the country's 14th Five-Year Plan, 2021-2025, it was the CPC Central Committee that set the framework at the 5th Plenum of the 19th National Congress in October 2020, establishing a "new development stage, philosophy and paradigm". The demarcation is between 2020, which was the advent of the "moderately prosperous society", and 2021, which begins the long-range, 15-year plan to 2035 and 30-year plan to 2050, when China intends to become a fully modernized, socialist nation. 

Certainly, the new development stage, philosophy and paradigm require scientific and technological innovation, giving highest priority to artificial intelligence, including machine learning and big data, along with semiconductors, quantum computing, life sciences and biotechnology (especially neuroscience), and new materials. 

Applications stress the digital economy, 5G, intelligent manufacturing, healthcare, alternative energy, new energy vehicles, and space and sea sciences, among others. China plans to spend $1.4 trillion during the next five years in key scientific sectors.

There are challenges: when government funding is huge and time-periods short, resources can be misallocated to well-connected but poorly equipped enterprises, causing inefficiencies, waste, distraction, and disappointment. There are old problems, such as intellectual property protection, and new issues, such as data privacy and AI-driven unemployment. The next five years are worth watching.

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