An a tropical island that marks the southern tip of China, a computer program called Lengpudashi is playing one-on-one poker against a dozen people at once, and it’s absolutely crushing them. Lengpudashi, which means “cold poker master” in Mandarin, is using a new artificial-intelligence technique to outbet and outbluff its opponents in a two-player version of Texas hold'em.
The venue for the tournament is a modern-looking technology park in Haikou, capital of the island of Hainan. Outside, modern high-rises loom over aging neighborhoods. Those gathered to play the machine include several poker champs, some well-known Chinese investors, entrepreneurs, and CEOs, and even the odd television celebrity. The games are being broadcast online, and millions are watching. The event symbolizes a growing sense of excitement and enthusiasm for artificial intelligence in China, but there’s also a problem. Lengpudashi wasn’t made in Hainan, Beijing, or Shanghai; it was built in Pittsburgh, U.S.A.
For many in China, this simply won’t do. The country is now embarking on an unprecedented effort to master artificial intelligence. Its government is planning to pour hundreds of billions of yuan (tens of billions of dollars) into the technology in coming years, and companies are investing heavily in nurturing and developing AI talent. If this country-wide effort succeeds—and there are many signs it will—China could emerge as a leading force in AI, improving the productivity of its industries and helping it become leader in creating new businesses that leverage the technology. And if, as many believe, AI is the key to future growth, China’s prowess in the field will help fortify its position as the dominant economic power in the world.
This article was originally published by Will Knight on October 10, 2017 via MIT Technology Review.