The report of the 19th Party Congress put forward the goal of “building a modernized economy”. At present, China’s economy has shifted from the stage of high-speed growth to one of high-quality development. What is the position of scientific and technological innovation in the building of a modernized economy? In the stage of high-quality economic development, how should China develop artificial intelligence, big data and other disruptive technologies? How can technological innovation generate new driver for economic growth and support structural reform on the supply side? With these questions, our correspondent interviewed Hu Zhijian, President of the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development, on March 2.
Reporter: Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, China has vigorously implemented the strategy of innovation-driven development and embarked on a new journey to build a country strong in science and technology. Scientific and technological innovation has achieved historic, comprehensive and structural changes, and China has become a major country with global influence in science and technology. What achievements has China made in scientific and technological innovation? What are their contribution to the building of a modernized economy in China?
Hu Zhijian: Since the 18th Party Congress, China has made remarkable achievements in scientific and technological innovation. For example, we have seen a surge in major innovation achievements such as “Jiaolong”, “Tianyan”, “Wukong” and “Mozi”. The number of invention patent applications and authorizations are among the highest in the world, and China’s global ranking in national innovation capability has risen from the 20th in 2012 to the 17th in 2017.
In recent years, scientific and technological innovation has given a strong support to the supply-side structural reform of the Chinese economy, and injected massive power into China’s economic modernization. In particular, disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, and “cloud computing” have led to the rapid development of the digital economy, platform economy, and sharing economy. The implementation of major national science and technology projects such as mobile communications, integrated circuits, numerical control machine tools, large aircraft and nuclear power has enabled China to take the lead in realizing leap-forward development in these key areas. The “Fuxing” EMU trains have achieved commercialized operation, taking China’s share in the global total of high-speed railway mileage to over 60%. China also ranks the first in the world in both the installed capacity and electricity generation of power plants running on renewable energy sources.
Another apparent change is that since the 18th Party Congress, the role of the business community as the main driving force of innovation has been further strengthened, and the proportion in R&D investment, research personnel and invention patents has all exceeded 70%. The participants of scientific and technological innovation have been expanded from R&D personnel to the whole society, creating a new situation of “mass entrepreneurship and innovation”. More than 4,000 “maker spaces”, over 3,000 high-tech business incubators and more than 400 business accelerators, as well as 19 national demonstration zones of indigenous innovation and 156 national high-tech zones have formed an ever-improving ecological chain of business start-up and incubation, and laid a good foundation for China’s economic modernization.
In particular, the 156 national high-tech zones provide important vehicles for China to implement the innovation-driven development strategy and promote a shift towards high-quality development. As a typical example of areas where innovation activities are concentrated, the national high-tech zones have served as a demonstration of China’s efforts to practice the new development concepts and build a modernized economic system. The national high-tech zones have drawn the world’s attention with their high economic output and successful innovation model. Many developing countries, especially countries from Southeast Asia, have come to China to “learn the Chinese experience”.
Reporter: The Chinese economy is in a critical period of shifting growth model, optimizing the economic structure and transforming the growth driver. How to correctly understand and grasp the important role of scientific and technological innovation?
Hu Zhijian: We must understand that China’s economic development has entered a new normal. We must continue to put quality first, and while maintaining medium-high economic growth, we should also pay more attention to improving the quality and efficiency of growth. In this process, scientific and technological innovation will become the primary driving force of economic growth, and China’s economic development will shift from relying on factors and investment to relying mainly on innovation.
Therefore, we must place greater importance on scientific and technological innovation, follow the trend and lead a new round of economic globalization and industrial revolution, promote the transformation in the driving force of economic modernization, make the Chinese economy more innovative and competitive, and accelerate supply-side structural reform through innovation in science and technology. We need to make proactive efforts to develop strategic emerging industries such as artificial intelligence and big data, and also use new technologies and the “Internet Plus” to transform and upgrade traditional industries. We must make effective use of networked, digital, green and intelligent manufacturing to speed up the development of new development models and forms of the real economy and build a modernized economic system.
Reporter: To build a modernized economic system, we cannot forget to mention artificial intelligence, big data, and other disruptive technologies that are leading the new round of scientific and technological revolution in the world. China also attaches great importance to the development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and has promulgated the Development Plan of the New-Generation Artificial Intelligence. What do you think about this?
Hu Zhijian: To vigorously develop new technologies and industries such as artificial intelligence and big data is a major strategic step for China to adapt to the changing circumstances and seize the opportunities of the world’s scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation, deepen structural reform on the supply side, and accelerate the building of an innovative country and a country strong in science and technology. It is also necessitated by China’s pursuit of economic modernization.
Taking artificial intelligence as an example, with the rapid development of big data, artificial intelligence is triggering a new round of industrial changes in the world. The new-generation artificial intelligence will reshape all aspects of economic activities, create new intelligent demands, stimulate new forms of products and industries and new business models, redefine our way of production and life, and bring about a leap in social productivity.
Artificial intelligence technology, which is the most disruptive information technology of the future, is becoming the strategic priority when numerous countries are investing resources and the focus of a new round of international technological and economic competition. Thanks to 40 years of reform and opening up, China now has a good foundation for gaining the first-mover advantage in artificial intelligence. According to statistics, China ranks the second in the world in the number of academic papers in the field of artificial intelligence, and a number of world-acclaimed innovation results have been achieved in image recognition, AI chips, intelligent medical solutions, intelligent manufacturing and other fields. Driven by technological innovation, a large number of leading AI companies have emerged in China. For example, Baidu has independently developed a deep learning platform and opened its autonomous driving technology to the industry; Ali has released industrialized AI applications such as medical brains and industrial brains; the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed the “Cambrian” AI chip with independent intellectual property rights.
Driven by national policies, a large number of AI-empowered start-ups and innovation companies are emerging, and the ecosystem of the AI industry is rapidly taking shape. AI and other disruptive technologies and industries have laid a solid foundation for the building of a modernized economy, injecting new energy to the country’s economic growth and leading to leapfrog economic and social development in China. (Reporter: Yuan Yufei)