Japan fears China’s lead in Artificial Intelligence

This Week in Asia

Japan has announced that it is planning to invest billions of yen to fund next-
generation semiconductors and other technologies critical to AI development.

Unfortunately, analysts believe, parts of Japan’s AI sector are far behind
China, and there is little that can be done that will enable Japan to regain
its predominance.

The cost of developing new chips has become cost-prohibitive for many Japanese
firms, one of the root causes of Japan’s lacklustre performance. To address this,
the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) said it will fund start-up
companies and researchers, enabling them to devise new technologies and
simultaneously develop world-class AI experts. It plans to request up to
10 billion yen (HK$690 billion) from the government’s fiscal year 2018 budget
for its initiative.

Mitsuru Ishizuka, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo who specializes
in AI, confesses: “Frankly speaking, the situation in Japan at the moment is very
hard and we are slipping behind the research in this area that is being done in
China.

“The government has set up two AI research centres, one under the Ministry of
Education and one under Meti, and there are many industries and companies that
are interested in AI, but there are a lot of obstacles,” Ishizuka told This Week
in Asia.

“For one thing, there aren’t so many AI researchers in Japan, certainly not in
comparison with those in this sector in China, which obviously has a far larger
population and a government that is investing very heavily in the sector,”
he added.

“The government’s efforts to promote research and development in the AI space are
a good step, but we are still behind the US and China seems to always be climbing
higher”, said Ishizuka.

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