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Digital Subscriptions > China Report > Issue 49 > Deep Learning

Deep Learning

China’s search giant Baidu is trying to push the envelope on ‘deep learning’ and other AI techniques. But ethical and practical concerns haunt the company’s efforts

AI in China

Fu Gui was just six years old when he was abducted from his hometown in Chongqing in China’s inland southwest. As an adult living in coastal Fujian Province, he had only hazy memories of his childhood, which led him to believe he might have been one of China’s many stolen children. He uploaded his photo to Baobeihuijia. com in 2009, a site that helps reunite kids and parents.

Eight years later, in January 2017, his father and aunt put one of their few photos of the infant Fu, aged four, on the site. That March, China search engine giant Baidu began working with the site, applying its newly developed cross-age face recognition technology. Fu’s photos were among the first to be matched, and a DNA test confirmed the results. Fu saw his father’s face for the first time on a video chat on April 8.

The story was widely covered, and brought new hope for the more than 20,000 people seeking their relatives on the site. In March, Li Yanhong (Robin Li), chairman, co-founder and CEO of Baidu, submitted a proposal to use facial recognition techniques to tackle child trafficking cases to the annual sessions of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the national advisory body.

Baidu developed the techniques through “deep learning,” an algorithm-based computing technique used to “train” machines in pattern recognition. Like other machine learning techniques, it allows computers to perform tasks they haven’t expressly been programmed for. So far it has proved to be the most effective means to manage voice and face recognition. As such, it’s a branch of artificial intelligence, where computers mimic human’s perceptive, cognitive and analytic functions. Although computer theorists and philosophers have widely varying definitions of the term, “AI” has become a common Silicon Valley buzzword, mostly used for such learning functions. Baidu was one of the first companies in China to seek to exploit these new learning functions for itself.

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About China Report

The Belt and Road forum held in Beijing in May heralds China's strategy of globalisation 2.0. How much China has invested in the BRI? How can other countries along the routes join in and benefit from the opportunities? (p.20-25) Technologically China has often been perceived as playing the catch-up game. Not in Artificial Intelligence, which the country's tech giants are spearheading with some success. (p. 34-43) A migrant worker has taken the country by storm in her Dickensian essay about her hard life in modern Beijing. (p.52-55)
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